Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz case brief

Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz case brief summary
370 N.E.2d 417 (1977)

Respondent was a mentally retarded person with a life threatening disease, and he was incapable of refusing chemotherapy for his leukemia in an informed manner. The Probate Court for Hampshire County (Massachusetts), after a hearing, ordered the withholding of the chemotherapy.


Respondent, a 67 years old with an I.Q. of 10 and a mental age of approximately two years and eight months, was diagnosed with a fatal form of leukemia. If the disease was untreated respondent was expected to die without discomfort. If respondent was treated with chemotherapy, although his life would have been extended, there were serious side effects that respondent would be unable to comprehend, and the treatment would not cure his disease. After a hearing, the probate court ordered that no treatment be administered.


  • The court concluded that the probate judge acted appropriately because the decision was 
  • (1) in accord with the testimony of the attending physicians of respondent, and 
  • (2) in accord with the generally accepted views of the medical profession. 
  • Respondent's right to privacy and self-determination, even though he was an incompetent person, was entitled to enforcement. 
  • The court found no state interest sufficient to counterbalance the decision to decline life-prolonging medical treatment under the circumstances.

The court affirmed the decision to withhold treatment from respondent.

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