A new law sets forth the legal process for withholding food and water from incapacitated people who haven’t made their wishes known.
The law, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed Monday, is unofficially dubbed "Jesse’s Law" and stems from a 2007 legal fight between the family of Jesse Ramirez and his wife at the time.
“I hope everyone gets a living will and power of attorney, but, if not, there’s something here in Arizona to help them,” Ramirez said Thursday in his Mesa home.
In 2007, Ramirez’s then-wife, Rebecca Ramirez, allowed the removal of a feeding tube from her comatose husband after the couple had been in a car crash.
Ramirez’s siblings and parents alleged that Rebecca Ramirez exceeded her authority as a guardian and didn’t have his best interests at heart because of their marital discord. The couple was in a heated argument when their SUV rolled May 30, 2007, near Cooper Road and Via De Palmas, south of Chandler Heights Road.
According to court documents, Rebecca Ramirez told a court investigator that she placed Ramirez in a Mesa hospice and disconnected his feeding tube because his prognosis was bleak and she believed she was following his wishes.
“She said she chose hospice because her husband told her that if he ever didn’t know who he was or who his family or kids were, to let him go,” court investigator Carrie Lawrence wrote.
His sister filed suit and a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered Ramirez’s feeding to resume. He regained consciousness as his wife and family worked out the details of a legal settlement. The couple have since divorced.
Ramirez, who lost his sight, said he wouldn’t have wanted to starve to death, but he had no living will.
He walked out of the hospital in October 2007.
The new law, which takes effect Sept. 30, doesn’t affect someone whose wishes are declared in a living will or health care power of attorney.
Under the new law, which takes effect Sept. 30, feeding must continue during the legal process if there is a challenge to a guardian’s decision to remove a feeding tube from the incapacitated person.
The court will have to make two findings to stop the feeding: that there is clear and convincing evidence the incapacitated person showed some intent he wanted off the feeding tube in such circumstances and a neurological exam shows the person is in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state that is incurable.
Ramirez, who broke his back, neck and forearm and suffered massive head injuries, said he is grateful to his family for fighting for him.
He can no longer work as a mail clerk and now spends his days either at one doctor’s office or another or attending Phoenix Center for the Blind to learn Braille and how to use his cane.
A roommate, Joe Matrishion, who was his first occupational therapist, helps him with cooking, housekeeping, medication and mundane daily tasks such as matching his clothes.
He still wears his eyeglasses because he sees a sliver of a shadow out of his right eye and he wants to make sure it is clear.
Ramirez said he isn’t as argumentative as before the crash and has more patience than ever.
“Now I can wait all day for anything,” he said.