When doctors ignore a living will and prolong suffering

The wife of a retired periodontist suffering from Alzheimer’s, Dr. Gerald Greenberg, has filed a lawsuit against a New York hospital claiming that doctors violated his last wishes. As the New York Post reports, Mrs. Elaine Greenberg’s husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in his fifties and by the age of 63 was completely disconnected from the real world. But shortly after finding out about his condition and while still in a sound state of mind he had drawn up a living will which effectively established a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. When Dr. Greenberg fell seriously ill and was estimated to only have a few days to live, his wife spoke to the medical team and provided them with the living will.

One doctor ignored those instructions and kept Greenberg alive for more than an additional month, moaning in pain until he finally passed away.

A Westchester County doctor ignored an ailing Alzheimer’s patient’s last wishes by callously prolonging his painful final days, a new lawsuit charges.

“There are times when Gerry was crying. He was not a man who cried, but he was suffering,” Elaine Greenberg told The Post of her retired periodontist husband, Dr. Gerald Greenberg, 63.

Gerald had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2010, and by 2016 couldn’t recognize or communicate with his wife and two sons, according to the family’s Bronx Supreme Court lawsuit.

But before being completely incapacitated, the Roslyn, LI, man wrote in a 2011 living will that he was to be given “comfort measures only, no intravenous fluids and no antibiotics,’’ if his condition became incurable, the suit says.

This is a particularly difficult story to write about for me because my mother suffered from advanced dementia and finally succumbed to it, but only after nearly a decade under medical care where she couldn’t recognize any of her family most of the time and couldn’t even communicate toward the end. She had no living will, and we all waited for nature to take its long, painful course.

Greenberg’s case should have been far simpler. I’ve written here on many occasions about end of life issues and I understand why many conservatives are opposed to assisted suicide and other end of life intervention choices. I may not agree, but I understand many of the objections. Personally, I believe that how we choose to face death, fully as much as how we deal with life, is one of the most personal decisions an individual or family can make and the government has no business being involved provided all facilities are competently run.

But Dr. Greenberg and his wife weren’t asking for assisted suicide or an intervention. She simply wanted the doctors to let her husband go as his time had clearly arrived. One doctor took matters into his own hands and denied Greenberg a death with whatever dignity remained to him. This should be considered malpractice in my opinion.

These are hard subjects to tackle, but the majority of us will either have to deal with them ourselves when the time comes or our lives will be touched by others who do. We all make our own choices in life. As free citizens we should be able to make those choices about death as well.