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Va. Feeding Tube Removal Upheld

October 1, 1998

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) _ A judge early Thursday rejected the state’s attempt to halt relatives of a comatose man from removing the feeding tube that has kept him alive for 3 1/2 years.

The ruling left no obstacles for the family of Hugh Finn to take the step that would lead his death. The family has said it will not announce when that will happen.

The family had planned to remove the tube after a court deadline expired Wednesday at midnight. But little more than an hour before the deadline, state attorneys at the behest of Gov. Jim Gilmore sought to block the move in Prince William Circuit Court

MANASSAS, Va.: Circuit Court.

A lawyer for the state argued at an emergency court hearing that pulling the tube would amount to euthanasia. Assistant Attorney General William Hurd said Finn ``is not dying, any more than a baby who cannot feed himself is dying.″

Greg Murphy, the attorney for Finn’s wife, said a state report given to the family earlier Wednesday concurred with doctors’ findings that Finn is in a ``persistent vegetative state″ with no chance of recovery.

Gilmore said he sought the order because a member of Finn’s family had asked the state to intervene. Gilmore said the matter should be reviewed in court to ensure Finn’s legal rights are protected.

Earlier Wednesday, the state’s top health official pressed the Finn’s family to reconsider whether the state should intervene to stop the action.

State Secretary of Health and Human Resources Claude Allen talked with relatives of Finn as the deadline neared, even as state attorneys pondered ways to keep the tube in place without the family’s blessing.

``They were asking if we wanted to ask them to take any action,″ Tom Finn Jr., a brother of Hugh Finn, said after talking with Allen. ``We said no, but they’re free to take any action that they feel they need to.

``Our feeling is if the state thinks they have an interest here that needs to be investigated or acted upon, it’s up to them,″ Tom Finn said.

The state had said it wouldn’t intervene. The state gave Finn’s family a report confirming the diagnosis that Finn is in a ``persistent vegetative state.″

Under Virginia law, life-sustaining treatment may be stopped if a person is in a persistent vegetative state.

Finn, a former Louisville, Ky., television news anchor, ruptured his aorta in a traffic accident in March 1995, depriving his brain of oxygen and leaving him unable to eat, care for himself or communicate.

In June, Finn’s wife, Michele Finn, told the family she wanted to remove her husband’s feeding tube. She said her husband had told her that he would not wish to live in such a condition.

Her decision caused a split in the family and sent John Finn to court to stop her. But Prince William Circuit Judge Frank Hoss Jr. ruled Aug. 31 that Michele Finn would remain as her husband’s guardian and had the right to remove the tube.

Hoss set a Sept. 30 deadline for appealing his ruling, and John Finn said he planned to take the case to the Virginia Supreme Court.

On Monday, however, Finn’s family agreed to end their bitter legal dispute over removing the feeding tube. John Finn dropped his plans to appeal, leaving Finn’s wife free to remove the tube when the appeal deadline expired.

Dr. Robin Merlino, the medical director of the Annaburg Manor Nursing Home in Manassas where Finn has lived since February 1996, said the nursing home planned to remove the tube at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. She said Finn will become dehydrated, his kidneys will fail, he will go into a coma and die within a couple of weeks.

The state became involved last month in the wake of news reports about Finn’s case. On Sept. 18, a nurse employed by the state visited Finn and filed a report saying he told her ``Hi″ and smoothed his hair during the hour and 15 minutes she watched him.

Allen sent the nurse back for a second visit and sent in doctors as the agency investigated whether Finn’s diagnosis is accurate.

Ed Finn, another brother of Hugh Finn, said he was relieved by the governor’s action.

``When we agreed with Michele to allow her to do it, that didn’t change our mind about wanting to keep Hugh alive,″ Ed Finn said. But he added he knew of no family member who had requested the state to intervene.

Gilmore invoked a provision of state law giving the governor the right to act on behalf of Virginia citizens where he determines existing legal procedures fail to adequately protect legal rights and interests.

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