Hargett v. Vitas
In September 2009, Michelle Hargett Beebee, a 43-year-old mother of three young children, was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Her pain and symptoms escalated quickly and soon after Michelle was referred to hospice care at Vitas, the nation's largest for-profit hospice chain. Michelle entered Vitas hospice in November 2009 with the goal of bringing her pain and symptoms under control and to have a peaceful death.
Instead, Michelle died in misery.
Her final weeks were underscored by terrible and almost continuous pain. Michelle was never told about her pain-management options, despite receiving care in California, where the California Right to Know End-of-Life Options Act requires health care providers to inform terminal patients, upon request, of all their end-of-life options.
Michelle's parents were at her side advocating strongly for optimal care and pain management. Despite their advocacy and a state law designed to help patients make informed choices, she was never told that medications were available to her that would have eased her acute pain.
This terrible story should never be repeated. That's why Compassion & Choices has filed a groundbreaking lawsuit in Alameda Superior Court under the California Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Act. The lawsuit seeks accountability from the Hospice for its reckless failure to treat Michelle's unrelieved agony as she approached death and for its failure to inform Michelle of her option to choose "palliative sedation".
What is "palliative sedation"? According to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), palliative sedation is the use of sedative medications to relieve extreme suffering by making the patient unaware and unconscious (as in a deep sleep) while the disease takes its course, eventually leading to death. The sedative medication is gradually increased until the patient is comfortable and able to relax. Palliative sedation is not intended to cause death or shorten life.
This legal action is the first in the nation to allege that failure to tell a patient about palliative sedation falls outside the medical standard of care.
Michelle and her survivors are represented by attorneys James Geagan of Sonoma and Kathryn Tucker, Director of Legal Affairs for Compassion & Choices. Tucker said, "Either Michelle was not given adequate pain medication, or her pain wasn't going to be adequately relieved, and she should have been offered ‘palliative sedation.' In either case, she was left uninformed, in violation of the Right to Know Act, and she suffered terribly in her final days."
We can't change what happened to Michelle. But we can make sure that providers understand that violating the state's Right-to-Know Act carries serious consequences. We will work to make sure that what happened to Michelle never, ever, happens again to any patient in California.
This lawsuit will reverberate across the country - making its outcome crucial to all concerned with patient rights, pain management and personal liberties.
News and Press Resources
Read the San Jose Mercury News story about Michelle Hargett Beebee and her family
Hargett Complaint Endorsed
Hargett Summons Endorsed
Hargett Civil Case Endorsed
Hargett Amended Complaint
First Amended Complaint for Damages
Notice of Demurrer
Defendant's motion to strike
Plaintiff's opposition to motion to demurrer
Plaintiff's opposition to motion to strike
Hargett ruling-motion to strike
Plaintiffs’ Writ re Grant of Demurrer on Claim of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Appellate Ruling Reversing Dismissal of Claims of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Order allowing Plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint on claims of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress