State v. McAfee, S89A0561

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtGREGORY
Citation385 S.E.2d 651,259 Ga. 579
Parties, 58 USLW 2321 STATE of Georgia v. McAFEE.
Docket NumberNo. S89A0561,S89A0561
Decision Date21 November 1989

Michael J. Bowers, Atty. Gen., Stephanie B. Manis, William C. Joy, William M. Droze, Asst. Attys. Gen., Atlanta, for the State.

Randall H. Davis, Neely & Player, Bernard Taylor, Kim E. Anderson, Alston & Bird, David M. Brown, Gambrell & Russell, Atlanta, for McAfee.

Richard L. Greene, Jack Spalding Schroeder, Jr., Lisa Joan Fellner, Giles R. Scofield, M. Rose Gosner, Fenella Rouse, amicus curie.

GREGORY, Justice.

Larry James McAfee suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident in 1985 which left him quadriplegic. Mr. McAfee is incapable of spontaneous respiration, and is dependent upon a ventilator to breathe. According to the record there is no hope that Mr. McAfee's condition will improve with time, nor is there any known medical treatment which can improve his condition.

In August, 1989 Mr. McAfee filed a petition in Fulton Superior Court, seeking a determination that he be allowed to turn off his ventilator, which will result in his death. He also prayed that the ventilator not be restarted once it is disconnected. Through the assistance of an engineer, Mr. McAfee has devised a means of turning off the ventilator himself by way of a timer. He has requested that he be provided a sedative to alleviate the pain which will occur when the ventilator is disconnected.

It is not disputed that Mr. McAfee is a competent adult who has been counseled on the issues involved in this case and has discussed these issues with his family. According to the record, his family supports his decision to refuse medical treatment.

The trial court granted Mr. McAfee's petition for declaratory relief, finding his constitutional rights of privacy 1 and liberty Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965); 1983 Georgia Constitution, Art. I, Sec. I, Par. I, and the concomitant right to refuse medical treatment outweigh any interest the state has in this proceeding. The trial court concluded that it could not order a medical professional to administer a sedative to Mr. McAfee, but held that no civil or criminal liability would attach to anyone who did so.

1. In In re L.H.R., 253 Ga. 439, 446, 321 S.E.2d 716 (1984), this court stated that "[i]n Georgia, as elsewhere, a competent adult patient has the right to refuse medical treatment in the absence of conflicting state interest." The parties have identified four generally recognized interests of the state which must be balanced against a competent, adult patient's right to refuse medical treatment: the state's interest in preserving life; its interest in preventing suicide; preservation of the integrity of the medical profession; and protection of innocent third parties. In re Farrell, 108 N.J. 335, 529 A.2d 404 (1987); In re Spring, 380 Mass. 629, 405 N.E.2d 115, 123 (1980); In re Colyer, 99 Wash.2d 114, 660 P.2d 738 (1983); Bartling v. Superior Court, 163 Cal.App.3d 186, 209 Cal.Rptr. 220 (1984). The parties agree that the only interest of the state implicated in this case is the general interest in preserving life. The state concedes that its interest in preserving life does not outweigh Mr. McAfee's right to refuse medical treatment. Analyzing most of the decisions cited above, the state takes the position that, "there is simply no basis in this case upon which the State may intervene and oppose the exercise of Mr. McAfee's right to refuse treatment." We note that we do not have before us a case where the state's interest is in preserving the life of an innocent third party, such as the unborn child of a woman who wishes to refuse medical treatment. See generally Jefferson v. Griffin etc. Hospital Auth., 247 Ga. 86, 274 S.E.2d 457 (1981). Therefore we hold that under the circumstances of this case the trial court was correct in granting Mr. McAfee's petition for declaratory relief.

2. We further hold that Mr. McAfee's right to be free from pain at the time...

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