The importance of end-of-life directives
The world lost a gem this week with the passing of Casey Kasem, radio and TV icon and the voice of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers from Scooby Doo. His death also marked the end of a very public legal battle between family members over his end-of-life directive.
After Kasem was told he had Parkinson’s Disease in 2007, he signed a document giving his oldest children authority to make his medical decisions if he should become unable to do so himself. The power of attorney statement signed by Kasem on November 11, 2007, included a declaration that he did not want to be kept alive with “any form of life-sustaining procedures, including nutrition and hydration” if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope of normal functioning.” This document, which snubbed Kasem’s wife, Jean, set the stage for the legal battle that would erupt six years later as his health deteriorated and his children accused their stepmother of shutting them out of their father’s life. It would serve as a legal basis for his daughter to have doctors discontinue infusions of water, food and medicine.
And it was a good thing Kasem signed the document. Often in cases like these, family members rely on verbal end-of-life directives, which don’t always hold up in court. According to research obtained through WestlawNext, a Supreme Court case from 1990 (Cruzan, 497 US 261) laid out what needs to be shown for clear and convincing proof of a verbal end-of-life directive. “Sufficient evidence supported conclusion that patient’s statements made to (family members) about a year (prior), that she would not want to live should she face life as a “vegetable,” and other observations to the same effect, did not amount to clear and convincing proof of desire by patient in persistent vegetative state to have hydration and nutrition withdrawn. State was not required to accept “substituted judgment” of close family members of patient in persistent vegetative state as to withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment absent substantial proof that their views reflected views of patient.”
The public battle over Kasem’s health began in October 2013, when daughters Julie and Kerri led a protest outside his Los Angeles mansion, holding signs demanding that their stepmother, Jean, let them see their ailing father. Kerri Kasem told reporters that Jean Kasem had kept them away for the previous three months and that she was worried about her father’s health. A few days after the protest, Julie Kasem and her husband filed a petition in court asking a judge to give them control of Kasem’s medical care. Los Angeles County Superior Judge Lesley Green appointed an investigator to report on Kasem’s condition. The judge ruled in November that he was being well cared for by his wife and denied the daughter’s request for a medical conservatorship.
Then on May 7, the Kasem family feud took a bizarre twist when Jean Kasem pulled her husband out of a southern California nursing home in the middle of the night against his doctor’s advice. After disconnecting his feeding tube and loading him into the backseat of an SUV, Jean Kasem took Casey to a private residence outside Seattle. This prompted Kerri Kasem to seek action. At a May 24 hearing, Los Angeles County Superior Judge Daniel Murphy temporarily expanded Kerri Kasem’s powers over her ailing father, also noting that the famed radio countdown host couldn’t travel anywhere without a court order and until a doctor examined him and gave him clearance for a journey. Kerri Kasem then requested that his infusions of water, food and medicine be stopped, but they were reinstated on June 9 after a request by Jean Kasem.
On June 11, a Los Angeles County judge reinstated the 82-year-old’s end-of-life directive by giving Kerri Kasem the authority to have doctors end his infusions once again, this time for good. Kasem’s doctor concluded that continuing the artificial nutrition and hydration would only prolong the dying process and add suffering to an already uncomfortable dying process, said Kerri Kasem’s lawyer, Troy Martin. However, Jean Kasem slammed the judge’s decision, calling it “the functional equivalent of a death sentence.”
Despite the bitter battle in his final weeks, Kasem will be remembered for his 40-plus years on the radio and setting the benchmark for contemporary countdown shows.