Conservator's Petition to Remove Feeding Tube
Conservatorship of Drabick (1988) 200 Cal.App.3d 185, involved a conservator's petition to remove his conservatee's feeding tube, but the conservatee in Drabick was in a persistent vegetative state. (Id. at p. 189.)
The trial court appointed independent counsel for the conservatee and the question on appeal was not whether independent counsel should have been appointed, but whether appointed counsel was required to oppose the petition.
After conducting an independent investigation, the appointed counsel concluded removing the feeding tube was in the conservatee's best interest and therefore did not oppose the conservator's petition.
The Drabick court held appointed counsel's role was to independently determine and represent the conservatee's best interests regardless of whether those interests were consistent or inconsistent with the actions the conservator sought on the conservatee's behalf: "When an incompetent conservatee is still able to communicate with his attorney it is unclear whether the attorney must advocate the client's stated preferences--however unreasonable--or independently determine and advocate the client's best interests. When the client is permanently unconscious, however, the attorney must be guided by his own understanding of the client's best interests. There is simply nothing else the attorney can do." (Id. at pp. 212-213.)
In Drabick, the Court of Appeal held a conservator must have the power to exercise a comatose conservatee's right to refuse medical treatment and not have his or her life artificially extended because the right would be rendered meaningless if someone could not exercise it on the comatose conservatee's behalf. (Drabick, supra, 200 Cal.App.3d at pp. 208-210.)
The Drabick court, however, did not conclude the conservatee's appointed counsel must follow the conservator's instructions. To the contrary, the court held appointed counsel must independently determine and advocate for the conservatee's best interests regardless of whether those interests coincide with the conservator's course of action on the conservatee's behalf. (Id. at pp. 212-214.)