Barber v. Superior Court

147 Cal. App. 3d 1006, 195 Cal. Rptr. 484 (1983)

 

RULE:

In California, there is no criminal liability for failure to act unless there is a legal duty to act.

FACTS:

Two physicians were charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder after they removed respirator and feeding tubes from a patient who had virtually no chance of recovering cognitive and motor skills, in accordance with the request of the patient's family. They sought a writ of prohibition from the district court. 

ISSUE:

Should writ of prohibition by physicians who terminated life support, causing patient's death, be granted?

ANSWER:

Yes

CONCLUSION:

The court issued a peremptory writ of prohibition to restrain the lower court from taking further action in the case, because the doctor's omission to continue medical treatment was not an unlawful failure to perform a legal duty where patient had virtually no chance of recovering cognitive or motor functions. Despite the doctor's actions being intentional and undertaken with knowledge that the patient would die, the omission to continue treatment was not an unlawful failure to perform a legal duty under the circumstances. Since petitioners were not under a legal duty to act, they had no criminal liability for failure to act. 

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.