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A Cautionary Tale About Professional Guardians and Do Not Resuscitate Orders


Doctors and hospital staff are required to make every effort to save the life of patients brought to them for treatment, no matter how hopeless the person’s situation may seem.  Any person who survived a near-death experience after receiving CPR and lived to tell about it will tell you that it was worth all the efforts of doctors, nurses, paramedics, or good Samaritans who thought clearly and acted quickly to save them.  In fact, most people who experience cardiac or respiratory arrest do not make a full recovery; life-saving measures may delay death, but when is it really saving a life and when is it merely prolonging the suffering of a terminally ill person?  Florida gives people the option of choosing for themselves the circumstances in which they do not wish to be resuscitated, and to designate a Health Care Surrogate.  They can do this by signing a Living Will and Designation of Health Care Surrogate.  If the patient’s health is dire, a physician can issue a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order.  Even with these documents it is still important to provide direction and personal wishes to the designated representative.

What Is a Public Guardian?

A legal guardian is a person who has the authority to make decisions on behalf of another person; most parents act as their children’s legal guardians until the children reach adulthood.  Adults may need a legal guardian, too, when the adult’s illness or disability prevents him or her from being able to make decisions, especially about his or her own health and finances.  The guardian can be a family member or a licensed professional guardian.  Every professional has completed the necessary training and certification to act as a guardian.  The State of Florida can appoint public guardians for people who cannot afford a professional guardian and who do not have any relatives willing and able to assume guardianship. 

Details of the Steven Stryker Case

On May 13, 2019, Steven Stryker died in Tampa at age 75.  His professional guardian, Rebecca Fierle, had instructed hospital staff not to revive him when he went into cardiac arrest.  Just days before his death, Stryker’s daughter had written to a judge, expressing her complaints about Fierle.  Stryker’s death led to an investigation of Fierle’s work as a guardian.  It turned out that she had filed DNR forms for dozens of elderly people under her guardianship, often against their wishes and those of their relatives.  Judge Janet Thorpe voided all “do not resuscitate” orders from the clients under Fierle’s guardianship.

While almost all guardians faithfully implement the wishes of the elderly people they represent and those elderly people’s families, you can never be too clear about what your wishes are.  A guardianship attorney can help you avoid misunderstandings and protect your rights in the event that you later need representation by a guardian.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

Put your wishes in writing now, while you are healthy, and make sure that your family members understand them; an elder law attorney can help and support you in this process.  Contact Clearwater guardianship attorney William Rambaum to discuss your questions.




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