A judge has revoked any “do not resuscitate” orders in nearly 100 cases involving an Orlando guardian accused of filing them on the behalf of incapacitated clients without permission.
State investigators have determined at least one person died in a Tampa hospital after staff could not perform life-saving procedures because of a “do not resuscitate” order filed by his guardian, Rebecca Fierle, against his wishes.
Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe sought the removal of Fierle from 95 cases after finding that she “abused her powers” by requesting that clients not receive medical treatment if their heart or breathing stopped — without permission from their families or the court. Guardians are court-appointed decision-makers for minors and adults with mental and physical disabilities, known as wards.
At a hearing last Thursday, Fierle resigned from all her cases in Orange and Osceola counties, court records show. Thorpe has since ordered all advanced directives signed by Fierle for her wards, including DNR orders, revoked.
“Any future Do Not Resuscitate Orders or Advance Directives must be approved by the Court,” Thorpe said in her order.
The investigation released by Florida’s Office of Public and Professional Guardians concluded Fierle refused to remove a DNR order she had filed on 75-year-old Steven Stryker of Cocoa, despite Stryker’s desire for life-saving actions and concerns from his daughter, a friend and a psychiatrist.
“The ward had never previously expressed a desire to die, and it seems unlikely that, as soon as he was appointed a guardian, he would suddenly be unwilling to tolerate a condition that he had been dealing with for many years,” Andrew Thurman, an investigator with the Okaloosa County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller, wrote in the report.
Medical records confirmed St. Joseph’s Hospital staff did not perform “life-saving procedures” on Stryker because of his guardian’s order, Thurman said. A spokeswoman for the hospital could not immediately comment on Stryker’s case because of patient privacy concerns.
Thorpe also denied a motion to disqualify herself from the cases. Fierle’s attorneys had requested the judge step aside, claiming the guardian “has a well-founded fear that she will not receive a fair trial or hearing.”
“Fierle has no knowledge or notice of what witnesses or evidence the Court has relied upon to make its findings, or if the evidence relied upon was under oath, or what witnesses and evidence will be brought forward at the hearing,” the motion for Thorpe’s disqualification said.
Neither Fierle nor her attorney have responded to multiple requests for comment.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of cases in which Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe sought Rebecca Fierle’s removal as a guardian. There were 95 cases.
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