A Massachusetts appeals court judge last night ordered the resumption of life-sustaining treatments for Earle Spring, a 78-year-old nursing home patient who was being allowed to "die with dignity" despite evidence that he wanted to live.
Supreme Judicial Court Judge Francis Quirico temporarily overruled a lower court judge who earlier in the day had refused to order the resumption of treatments in the face of uncontradicted affidavits that spring said he did not want to die.
Spring has missed four of his regular kidney dialysis treatments, which prevent a fatal poisoning of the blood, since his family sought and received a court order last week terminating the treatments on the ground that the "mentally incompetent" but fully conscious man would want it that way.
After the order last week, a doctor and nurses who talked with Spring said he told them he did not want to die. His comments were submitted to Probate Court Judge Sanford Keedy in Greenfield, Mass., yesterday along with a motion from a court-appointed lawyer to the treatments resume.
Keedy denied the motion without comment. Spring's court-appointed lawyer and lawyers recruited by Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, who has involved himself in the case, were racing last night to file appeals.
The appeal to Quirico was successful last night. The judge said the original order -- terminating the treatments -- was stayed until further notice, and he scheduled more arguments for today.
The Spring case is not a "death-with-dignity" case like that of Karen Quinlan. Spring, unlike Quinlan, is fully conscious and can communicate.
But his family says he is incoherent in mind and word and incapable of voicing true sentiments. The family "would like nothing more than to think he can be restored to competence," said family lawyer Marguerite Dolan in an interview.
"But the last time they visited him, he didn't even know them. He didn't know his son. He answers in monosyllables. He does not carry on any sustained conversation."
Did the family ask Spring if he wanted to die? Dolan was asked. "He is totally unresponsive," she said.
But nurses at the Holyoke, Mass., convalescent center told a local newspaper his answer was "no," he did not want to die when they asked. And in affidavits filed yesterday by LaRouche's lawyers, a doctor and a nurse also said they got the same answer.
Dolan said that the evidence presented yesterday was "very scanty and very unscientific and very unsbstantiated. They never asked him if he knew what dialysis is or if he wanted to have it terminated. They simply asked if he wanted to die.
"The probate judge felt this was too insubstantial."
Dolan said the family placed Spring on dialysis 18 months ago and in the nursing home in November.
"They did this with high expectation that this would restore him to some level of functioning. But quite the opposite happened. He deteriorated.
"The doctor found that the treatment was ineffective except for the lowest level of staying alive and that he was beginning to suffer unusual (and negative) by products of dialysis."
The wife and son then decided to terminate dialysis, Dolan said. The doctor and nursing home declined until they were freed from possible legal liability for Spring's death. The Springs went all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
The court placed the decision in the judge's hands. Keedy, eight days ago, ordered the termination of dialysis. In the days that followed, the news of Spring's expressed desire not to die surfaced.