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Hawkins v. DeKalb Medical Center

313 Ga. App. 209, 721 S.E.2d 131 (2011)

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Hawkins v. DeKalb Medical Center

Georgia Court of Appeals

313 Ga. App. 209, 721 S.E.2d 131 (2011)

Facts

Tara Hawkins (plaintiff) was 18 years old and pregnant when she suffered a head trauma and lost consciousness. Tara was taken by ambulance to the DeKalb Medical Center (medical center) (defendant) emergency room, where she was intubated and never regained consciousness. Tara’s mother Nonnie Hawkins (plaintiff) signed an admission consent form at the emergency room as Tara’s representative. Two days later, a neurologist performed an electroencephalogram (EEG) and interpreted it as showing Tara’s global anoxic brain injury and imminent brain death. The neurologist recommended to Nonnie that the fetus be aborted to allow for more oxygen consumption by Tara’s brain cells. Nonnie refused to consent to this procedure. The next day the neurologist informed Nonnie that Tara’s brain death was present or imminent. The neurologist met with an obstetrician who believed the 12-week-old fetus could develop to the point of viability. Tara was examined extensively for any sign of brain function or brain-stem function over the next 14 weeks, but none was discovered. The baby (plaintiff) was born. Medical center physicians performed an apnea test on Tara by temporarily turning off her mechanical ventilation as the last part of a brain-death evaluation. The apnea test indicated no brain activity, and a physician informed Nonnie that if Tara did not pass a second apnea test, her mechanical ventilation would not be restarted. Tara underwent a second EEG, which showed an absence of brain-wave activity. Tara failed the second apnea test and was pronounced dead by her physicians, who did not restart her mechanical ventilation. The medical center had a written policy on brain-based determination of death and Tara’s brain-death determination was conducted according to this policy. Nonnie filed suit against the medical center as Tara’s sole survivor and the representative of Tara’s baby, claiming wrongful death by tortious termination of life support. The medical center moved for summary judgment on this claim. The trial court denied the summary-judgment motion. The medical center appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Phipps, J.)

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