Florida Man Dies After Hospital and Wife Battle Over His Living Will

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 10, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
December 10, 2004

Orlando, FL (LifeNews.com) — The man at the center of a debate between his wife and a Florida hospital has died after the hospital won the right to terminate his life support. The hospital and wife disputed whether or not 73-year-old terminally ill patient Hanford Pinette had any hope of survival.

Pinette stopped breathing less than two hours after doctors at Lucerne Hospital removed him from a breathing machine.

"He was trying to breathe on his own," Pinette’s wife Alice told the Associated Press.

She is still upset at the actions a court took to allow the hospital to end her husband’s life.

"These people, they actually killed the man," she said. "They know what they were doing. Hank was alive, mentally. They pulled the plugs and killed him."

However, doctors maintained that Pinette was in a terminal state, could not make decisions for himself and would not likely recover.

That led to a legal battle and Orange Circuit Judge Lawrence Kirkwood ruled that the hospital had the right to follow Pinette’s living will, even though Pinette’s wife also had a durable power of attorney form from her husband.

Written in 1998, the documents authorized Alice to make his medical decisions.

Yet, Pinette also said he did not want "to prolong artificially the process of dying." It stated that he wanted "to die naturally" and receive treatment only to "alleviate pain."

David Evans, the hospital’s attorney told the Associated Press that the hospital notified Alice and her attorney last weekend that the breathing machine and medication helping Pinette stay alive would be removed Wednesday.

They did not indicate they wished to appeal Judge Kirkwood’s decision.

Alice and her family maintain that Pinette was alive and aware and responding with them. They taped a video of him Wednesday they say showed him interacting with his family and telling Alice he wanted to go home with her.

Alice previously said that, if her husband were in a coma and unresponsive, she would carry out the direction in the living will. She says her husband watches football and told family members who recently shot a deer to "save me a steak."

She said Hanford picks and chooses to whom he will talk and showed pictures at the trial of him seemingly alert.

But Pinette’s pulmonologist Juan Herran told an Orlando newspaper that he has not seen a cognitive response from Hanford in weeks or months. Herran said Hanford would not likely recover from the congestive heart failure that led to the shutdown of other vital organs.

Nancy Valko, a representative of Nurses for Life, said some people may be surprised that Pinette stayed alive for two hours, breathing on his own even after he was taken off of the ventilator.

"People often assume that when a ventilator is removed the person just peacefully stops breathing," Valko explained. "However, I’ve personally seen people continue to breathe (and even struggle to breathe) for hours, even days before finally succumbing."

Valko pointed to the case of Jason Childress, a Virginia man who is still alive and breathing on his own months after he was removed from a breathing machine following a severe automobile accident.

Valko said patients who are removed from a ventilator should be given oxygen. If they recover they could have brain damage as a result of too little oxygen.