California Judge Rules Wife has Legal Right to Remove Husband’s Life Support

A California judge recently decided that a spouse of someone who is on life support, has the ability to make their end-of-life decisions if they do not have an advance health care directive. The man was in a vegetative state and was without likelihood of recovery.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge recently found that a wife in California had the legal right to decide whether to end treatment for her husband who was in a permanent vegetative state.

Judge Mary Thornton House decided in her ruling that if an unresponsive individual does not have an Advance Health Care Directive, their spouse can make end-of-life decisions for them. The case concerned Juan Fernando Romero of San Gabriel Valley, California. He was found to be in a persistent vegetative state without any likelihood of recovery after sustaining serious brain damage in 2015.

“This case highlights how important it is for every adult to complete an Advance Health Care Directive. The document allows you to control your health care decisions by appointing an individual to carry out your wishes in case you become incapacitated,” said nationally known estate planning attorney Mark Gilfix. “It provides clarity for your loved ones so they can honor your preferences for end-of-life decisions. Without an Advance Health Care Directive, there is likely to be confusion, guilt and possible legal challenges for family members.”

In 2016 Ana Romero, Juan Fernando Romero’s wife, sought to disconnect his feeding tube and life support. His parents and sister filed a lawsuit against Mrs. Romero to obtain control of his end-of-life decisions from her. In order to keep Mr. Romero on life support, they asked the court to appoint Mr. Romero’s sister as the health care proxy. Mr. Romero died of natural causes at age 37 in June 2017 before the case concluded.

The family’s attorneys argued Mrs. Romero had no legal decision-making authority. The family also said removing Mr. Romero’s life support would go against his religious beliefs.

However, House ruled Mrs. Romero had the authority to make end-of-life decisions on her husband’s behalf as he had previously discussed with her the issue of not prolonging death. The judge dismissed the family’s claims that they had seen Mr. Romero show signs of consciousness. She cited expert testimony from a doctor who concluded his limited brain function meant that he would remain permanently unconscious with no chance of recovery.

“As his spouse, Ana is the presumptive health care surrogate for Juan Fernando in light of his incapacitation,” House wrote. She said his immediate family never spoke about his preferences in case of incapacity.

The judge also noted that there is ambiguity in the state law when it comes to determining who has the legal right to make decisions for an incapacitated individual. However, she ruled that Mrs. Romero fully complied with California’s Health Care Decisions Law as her husband’s surrogate.