Stanford Hospital & Clinics has settled a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit that could have defined "comfort care" for the dying.
The suit, which was brought by the family of Peter Williams Allen of Palo Alto, struck at Stanford's protocols. Court papers alleged the hospital transferred the terminally ill 80-year-old patient without his family's knowledge and then "lost" the body for a time.
Allen was moved from his hospital room to an end-of-life unit on Dec. 23, 2005 — one hour after his family had a verbal understanding with hospital staff and doctors that he would remain in his room with his belongings through Christmas. The family planned to arrange for hospice care so that Allen, who had heart and kidney failure, a stroke and an infection, could die at home, according to the lawsuit.
But Stanford doctors moved Allen to end-of-life care without notifying the family. Hospital staff did not transfer the family's contact information to the end-of-life unit; Allen died alone without his family to comfort him and the family did not learn of his death for many hours thereafter, the suit alleged.
Allen's body was given to a mortuary not of the family's choice and without a signed release by his relatives. The hospital did not know where he had been taken for a time, according to court papers.
The suit was settled and vacated on or around May 6 and awaits dismissal by a judge on June 26, according to public documents at the Superior Court of Santa Clara County.
The Allen family's attorney, James Geagan of Sonoma, said he could not say "word one" about the case. Allen's relatives said they signed a confidentiality agreement and could not comment on the case.