MN Guardian Has Power to Make End-of-Life Decisions, High Court Holds

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: MN guardianship.

In re the Guardianship of: Jeffers J. Tschumy, Ward. MN guardianship

In 2007, a social worker at a Hennepin County nursing facility filed a petition to have a guardian appointed for 53-year-old Jeffers J. Tschumy. In 2012, Tschumy choked on a sandwich and went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. Despite CPR, he eventually was given a "dismal prognosis for return of meaningful neurologic recovery." His treatment team unanimously agreed that he had suffered irreversible brain damage and could not survive.

The hospital filed a petition with the court, and a hearing was held on the issue of whether the guardian had authority to make decisions about removal from life support. The court appointed an attorney to represent Tschumy. The attorney investigated and testified that Tschumy would most likely opt not to have the life support services in place.

The district court granted the hospital's petition to remove Tschumy from life support, but held that this was not included in the guardian's powers. In other words, in future cases, a petition would need to be filed with the court, and the guardian would not have the power to act without doing so. The case went to the Court of Appeals, which reversed and held that the guardian possessed this power. The case then went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which agreed with the Court of Appeals.

The high court first agreed that it still had jurisdiction, even though the case was now moot. Even though the case was technically moot, it was a question of statewide importance that needed to be addressed.

The Minnesota Supreme Court held:

The power of a guardian to consent to necessary medical treatment for a ward under Minn. Stat. 524.5-313 includes the power to consent to the removal of a ward from life support systems when all interested parties agree that removal is in the ward’s best interests.

Justice Anderson dissented, arguing that the end-of-life decisions did not fit in with the statutory framework, which covered medical care issues. He pointed out that the decision would mean that very few such cases would receive judicial review.

Justice Stras also dissented, and Justice Page joined in this dissent. The two justices argued that the case was moot and should not be decided. He pointed out that the order being appealed didn't actually order anyone to do anything, but instead just provided an opinion for reference to future cases. He cited an earlier case where the court held that the "Minnesota Constitution does not grant us the authority to 'decide cases merely to make precedents.'"

No. A12-2179 (Minn. Sept. 17, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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