Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Information and Resources

Font Size

Forced to Live

Marshall Klavan wanted to die. His physicians wanted him to live. Who had the right to decide?

Doctors No Longer "Godlike" continued...

It's one thing for patients to gain the right to pull the plug; it's quite another to hold doctors personally liable if they don't comply with a patient's wishes. And up to now, courts have been reluctant to "impose liability on a caregiver for not following directives," says attorney Robyn Shapiro, director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Now that may be changing. "Jurors in the past were unwilling to fault physicians, especially in [taking actions] that prolong life," says Carol Sieger, staff attorney with New York-based Partnership for Caring, a counseling and advocacy group that invented the living will in 1967. "Now jurors no longer view doctors as godlike, parental figures. They're more willing to hold them accountable."

The Right to Die Is Not Absolute

Doctors say the conflict between patient autonomy and a physician's obligation to do no harm places them in a difficult ethical bind.

"The right to die is not absolute," wrote Crozer-Chester attorneys in their motion to dismiss Klavan's federal suit. "The right is balanced against the state's interest in protection of third parties, prevention of suicide, and protection of the ethical integrity of the medical community and preservation of life. Society has not yet reached the point where medical caregivers' well-meaning efforts to save a professional colleague's life are regarded as indecent, atrocious, and intolerable."

Loren Stein, a journalist based in Palo Alto, Calif., specializes in health and legal issues. Her work has appeared in California Lawyer, Hippocrates, L.A. Weekly, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.

1|2|3

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

feet
Solutions for 19 types.
row of colored highlighter pens
Tips for living better.
oatmeal and eggs
The best and worst for you.
neti pot
6 steps for nasal irrigation.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
stressed working woman
And how to fix them?
woman walking in fog
12 tips for managing your disease.
Healthy Snack
13 delicious options.
Woman running
10 ways to boost your metabolism.
lone star tick
How to identify that bite.
young woman in sun
What to watch for.
Colored x-ray of tooth decay
What are the top ones?

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.