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Bouvia Has Right to Refuse Force-Feeding, Court Says

Times Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bouvia, who lost a legal battle to be allowed to starve to death in 1983, today won the right to refuse force-feeding or any other unwanted medical treatment, “even if its exercise creates a ‘life-threatening condition.’ ”

In so ruling, the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren H. Deering denying Bouvia’s request to halt the forced-feeding. Deering had concluded that it was “fairly clear” that she once again had “formed an intent to die.”

The appellate panel instructed Deering to issue a new order directing immediate removal of the nasogastric tube carrying nutrients to her stomach.

“The trial court seriously erred by basing its decision on the ‘motives’ behind Elizabeth Bouvia’s decision to exercise her rights,” the panel of justices ruled today. “If a right exists, it matters not what ‘motivates’ its exercise.”

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The ruling also stated that “her decision to allow nature to take its course is not equivalent to an election to commit suicide with (doctors and hospital) aiding and abetting therein,” the justices wrote in their 26-page decision.

Bouvia, told of the ruling in a telephone call by attorney Richard Scott, said she was “relieved and happy,” Scott told The Times.

The 28-year-old quadriplegic cerebral palsy victim, who cannot feed herself and depends on others for her total care, has fought to have the force-feeding stopped since doctors inserted the tube against her will last December at the Los Angeles County-operated High Desert Hospital in Lancaster.

Lawyers for the county argued that doctors initiated the force-feeding to avert a life-threatening situation, convinced that her liquid diet intake of 500 to 700 calories a day was not enough to keep her alive.

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The opinion was written by Justice Edwin F. Beach. In a concurring opinion, Justice Lynn D. Compton wrote that Bouvia “apparently has made a conscious and informed choice that she prefers death; to continued existence in her helpless and, to her, intolerable condition. I believe she has an absolute right to effectuate this decision.”


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