German high court dismisses liability of doctor for keeping dementia patient alive

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-03 01:57:19|Editor: Mu Xuequan
Video PlayerClose

BERLIN, April 2 (Xinhua) -- The German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe on Tuesday dismissed a complaint for financial compensation due to pain and suffering brought in the name of a dementia patient who died in 2011.

Doctors could not become financially liable if they kept a patient alive longer than medically meaningful, for example by artificial nutrition, and thus prolonged the patient's suffering, ruled the BGH.

The case was brought by Heinz Sening who considered it a medical error that his father, who was incapable of communication and movement, had been kept alive via a stomach tube for years without any prospect of improvement.

Sening sued the attending family doctor for compensation for pain and suffering as well as damages, demanding a total of 152,000 euros (170,000 U.S. dollars) because of "continued bodily injury" and the care costs resulting from this.

In 2017, the Higher Regional Court (OLG) of Munich had initially ruled in favor of Sening and argued that the family doctor should not have simply allowed the tube feeding to continue without thoroughly discussing the situation with the patient's appointed caregiver.

The OLG judges had awarded Sening 40,000 euros in damages for pain and suffering caused by the doctor's violation of his duty to inform.

Both Sening and the family doctor appealed so the case went to the Federal Court of Justice, Germany's highest civil court.

The presiding German court of justice judge, Vera von Pentz, said it was questionable whether the doctor had violated duties. "No third party is entitled to judge the value of a life," she said.

There was therefore a lack of immaterial damage that could trigger claims for damages for pain and suffering.

Both parties had appealed, announced the BGH. The doctor was seeking dismissal of the action and the plaintiff Sening was seeking the award of material damages.