Last week I was telling you about a story related to me by a parent of children who just turned age 18 and which reinforced for her the importance of having proper legal documents in place now that would allow her to make important decisions for her children.
So, where did everything go wrong for Alyssa and her family? What steps can we all take to prevent the same horrible experience? Once Alyssa turned age 18 her parents legally had no right to make decisions for her – that is unless she signed a legal document allowing them to do so. A health care directive would have allowed them to make medical decisions for her if she couldn’t do so herself. Similarly, a power of attorney would have permitted them to make financial decisions on her behalf.
The news reports I read did not make clear when Alyssa turned age 18, the age of majority. If she had turned 18 before she had the brain aneurysm on Christmas Day she could have executed a health care directive giving her mother the ability to make medical decisions. If the Mayo Clinic staff then refused to take direction from her, Alyssa’s mom could have engaged an attorney on her behalf. Absent proof that the health care directive was in some way defective or that Alyssa’s mom herself was not competent it would have been difficult for the Mayo Clinic to refuse to honor it. I would expect their attorneys would have told them to transfer her and the matter would have ended there.
For whatever reason, Alyssa did not have the legal documents in place. In that case guardianship is the next option but only if Alyssa can be deemed incompetent. Her family hired an attorney to write a letter requesting that the Mayo Clinic transfer her to another hospital, which request was refused. It is not clear why they didn’t press on further with the attorney. If Alyssa was competent she could have – through her attorney – put pressure on Mayo Clinic’s attorneys to articulate a legal basis for denying her request and if necessary filed a lawsuit seeking to be released.
Litigation is not without its costs and maybe the family felt they couldn’t afford the legal bills. However, I would think that engaging the Mayo Clinic’s attorneys could have achieved her release without court intervention. Their attorneys tried unsuccessfully to obtain guardianship over Alyssa. While news reports did not specify why their efforts were rejected I suspect the reason is that Mayo Clinic could not satisfy a judge that Alyssa was incompetent. Perhaps a judge asked the same question as the detective did. If Alyssa was not competent then why was she making her own medical decisions to that point? Knowing that they had failed twice to deem Alyssa incapacitated, what other reason could the Mayo Clinic have for denying Alyssa’s request? They really didn’t have another option.