Can a hospital pull the plug on life support when medical treatment is futile?

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) - It is a legal, ethical and even moral question that does not have a clear answer: Can a hospital end life support for a patient when medical treatment is futile?

The family of 9-year-old Jamerian Bennett is going through this now with Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  And they’ve been posting updates of their case on a Facebook page titled, Prayers for Jamerian Bennett.

According to family members, Jamerian got Pneumonia that caused lung damage.  Postings on the Facebook page say they’ve considered moving him to other hospitals for treatment and even a lung transplant. 

But then their story became very critical.  They say hospital officials told them they were going to end life support this week.

Nicholas Bennett told 7 Investigator Jim Kiertzner Friday that has not happened, they are trying to work something out and it could take a week.

Peter Hammer is a Law Professor at Wayne State University.  He says the law is not clear on a case like this and the hospital may go to Probate Court to make a case that further treatment is futile and only postponing the end of life.

The purpose would be to have a judge issue an order to pull the plug, or transfer the patient.

Hospital officials would not speak to the specifics of Jamerian’s case but gave us this statement:

We take patient privacy seriously, so we can’t discuss specifics of any patient’s care.

However, all of us empathize with the extraordinarily emotional process that families facing such decisions go through.

Our team of highly experienced and specialized nurses, doctors and other health professionals exhaust every available option to help patients who are critically ill.

Multiple pediatric experts research available treatments, including those that are experimental,  and consult with other institutions across the country. If another hospital provides technology or treatment not available at Michigan Medicine -- and the patient’s family chooses to go elsewhere-- our hospital will facilitate transferring the patient.

And, our care teams work hard providing families with extensive support when their children’s  health continues to worsen despite treatment. 

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