Ailing Hirth, 92, Taken From Area : Family, Lawyers Refuse to Discuss Location of 'Right to Die' Figure

Times Staff Writer

Anna Hirth, the 92-year-old woman at the center of a controversial "right to die" case, has been removed from the care of the doctor and nursing home staff who refused to withdraw her feeding tube. She has been moved out of San Diego County.

In papers filed with the 4th District Court of Appeal, a lawyer for the woman's family informed the court Thursday that Hirth "is no longer located in San Diego County" and "is no longer a patient of . . . Dr. Allen Jay."

Neither Hirth's daughter, Helen Gary, nor her lawyer, Richard Scott, would comment on the case Tuesday afternoon. They declined to discuss Mrs. Hirth's whereabouts or even whether she is still alive.

The notification came just one month after a Superior Court judge in San Diego County ruled that, if Gary wanted to exercise her mother's "right to die," she should find another doctor and a health facility willing to remove the tube.

Judge Suggested Move

Judge Milton Milkes suggested in his April 15 ruling that Hirth might have to leave San Diego County in order to escape the publicity that he said was discouraging health care providers from assuming Hirth's care.

Milkes had previously directed Jay to see that Hirth's feeding tube be removed, in accordance with what Gary said were her mother's wishes. But Jay refused, on medical and ethical grounds, and said he was unable to find another doctor willing to comply.

Hirth had been deteriorating from Alzheimer's disease for many years. Then, in early 1986, she became completely incapacitated when she suffered brain damage after a choking incident.

Gary, her only surviving child, asked Jay to terminate artificial feeding of Hirth, saying her mother had expressed to her a disgust for nursing homes. But Jay declined to terminate her treatment, saying he did not believe Hirth's comatose condition was irreversible.

He continued to oppose Gary's wishes even after she went to court.

"It's extremely difficult, once you've made a commitment to take care of a patient, then to actively terminate that person's life," Jay said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Jay said he received a call last week from Gary informing him that he had been dismissed from the case. Jay's lawyer, James McIntyre, confirmed that he, too, had received a call from Gary's lawyer informing him of the decision.

The calls apparently came after Scott filed with the court a so-called "notification of change of status." According to one lawyer in the case, the notification stated that, as of May 12, Hirth was no longer in the county or in Jay's care.

The notification was dated May 14 and was received by other lawyers in the case on May 16.

'Relieved' and 'Saddened'

"I was a little relieved, in that the appeal (of Milkes' last order) would become a moot point," said Jay. "And in a sense, a little saddened, in that this is my patient that I had taken care of for eight years."

Jay said he did not know what has become of Mrs. Hirth.

"One must assume that the plan is to go forward," Jay said. " . . . According to the court order, (Gary) has the right to have the tube removed."

Gary, reached at her home outside Los Angeles, declined to comment on the matter. She said simply: "It is a private matter. . . . I don't know what the future holds."

Her lawyer, Scott, also declined comment, invoking a May 6 court order barring Jay and the nursing home, Hacienda de La Mesa, from commenting on Hirth's condition or releasing any information about her continued presence at, or departure from, the facility.

"I'm not going to say anything about where she is or if she's alive or whether I know anything," said Scott. Asked whether the public would ever know if or when Hirth dies, Scott said: "I expect that the word will be out that it has happened or that it will happen."

Doctors have testified that removing the artificial feeding and hydration system that supports Hirth could result in her death within two weeks.

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