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A risk manager at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) hospital tells Healthcare Risk Management that the hospital did not encourage the husband of a patient who is a Jehovah’s Witness to seek a legal remedy about using blood products on his wife.
Bill Shaffner, JD, associate counsel and director of risk management at UPMC, says the hospital was only a third party waiting for instructions. The flap revolves around whether UPMC agreed to perform a liver transplant on a Jehovah’s Witness without using blood products and if the husband tried to circumvent the patient’s wishes and her written declarations. The plaintiff’s attorney alleged that the hospital helped the husband get around the patient’s wishes. (See Healthcare Risk Management, August 2001, p. 90.)
"The husband initiated an inquiry as to whether any local counsel would be willing to represent him in that situation, but I honestly don’t know whether he obtained his counsel from the staff at the hospital or how that came about," Shaffner says. "But I know we did not in any way affirmatively solicit him to get involved with counsel or seek any sort of court intervention with respect to her wishes. Our staff were not actively encouraging him."
Though Shaffner and the plaintiff’s attorney are on opposite sides of the case, they agree that it would be improper for the hospital staff to actively encourage a family member to usurp a patient’s clear wishes. The risk manager says he sees a distinction between simply providing information when asked about local attorneys and actually suggesting or encouraging court action.
"Legal issues aside, I don’t think that’s the proper role for a hospital," Shaffner says. "But I don’t see any problem if they just answered his question, rather than saying, If you love your wife, here’s what you should do.’ I appreciate that it’s a slippery slope, but I think it’s a legitimate distinction nonetheless."