The Alameda County Superior Court has ruled nursing homes that give mind-altering drugs and withdraw life-sustaining treatment to “unrepresented” residents are violating the state constitution and must stop immediately.
The case, CANHR v. Chapman, was brought by Professor Mort Cohen of Golden Gate University Law School on behalf of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) and several nursing home residents against the California Department of Public Health (DPH).
Since 1992, California nursing homes have used Health and Safety Code §1418.8, a law allowing nursing homes to make routine medical decisions for residents who lack mental capacity and do not have family or other surrogate decision-makers, to drastically limit the lives and liberty of their residents. DPH has interpreted this law to permit facilities to tie residents to their beds, force them to take antipsychotic drugs as chemical restraints, and authorize the withdrawal of treatment necessary to sustain life.
The Court found Section 1418.8 facially unconstitutional for its failure to provide residents with any notice they had been determined “incapacitated” or that medical decisions were being considered without their input. The Court also held that the state constitution prohibits nursing homes from drugging residents or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment without more due process than Section 1418.8 provides.
According to Professor Cohen, “The judge understood that what is convenient for nursing homes turns out to be highly intrusive to residents. This decision recognizes that people do not lose their rights to life and liberty simply because they live in a nursing home.”
Pat McGinnis, Executive Director of CANHR stated “This is an amazing victory for nursing home residents and all Californians. The decision will ensure that residents are protected from poorly considered treatment and are given the full respect that our constitution affords.”
The Court recognized that its ruling “will likely create problems in how many skilled nursing facilities operate” but “the court has considered this burden and weighed it against due process concerns, and finds that the due process rights of these patients is more compelling..” [emphasis added]