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Medicine and Public Policy |

The Death of Clarence Herbert: Withdrawing Care Is Not Murder

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Grant support: in part by the Maureen Church Coburn Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to Bernard Lo, M.D.; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, 400 Parnassus Avenue, Room A-405, University of California, San Francisco; San Francisco, CA 94143.

San Francisco, California

©1984 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1984;101(2):248-251. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-101-2-248
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Two physicians were charged with murder for discontinuing mechanical ventilation and intravenous fluids for a comatose patient. Although these unprecedented criminal charges were dismissed, the ruling may give physicians little legal reassurance. The case shows the problems in judging prognosis, resolving disagreements with staff, and communicating with families. Indirectly the case suggests how decision making and the care of dying patients may be improved. Physicians will continue to have responsibility for making difficult decisions according to their best medical and ethical judgment, despite legal uncertainty.





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