In 1997, Benjamin Schreiber was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in an Iowa prison. In March 2015, Benjamin fell gravely ill. He developed kidney stones which “caused him to develop septic poisoning,” and was brought to the hospital in critical condition. Though Benjamin had a do-not-resuscitate (“DNR”) order in place, he was resuscitated five times. Once Benjamin became stable, the medical staff operated on and repaired organs that were damaged. In 2018, Benjamin filed a lawsuit seeking post-conviction relief, alleging that he should be released from prison. He contends that because he “momentarily died” in the hospital, he had satisfactorily served his life sentence. The Iowa Court of Appeals found this argument unpersuasive, stating that the Court “[did] not believe that the [Iowa] legislature intended…to set criminal defendants free whenever medical procedures during their incarceration lead to their resuscitation by medical professionals…” Benjamin also alleged a violation of his due process rights because the hospital did not respect his DNR. Court records confirm that Benjamin’s brother, who was at the hospital with Benjamin, instructed the hospital staff only to give him medicine to ease his pain, “but otherwise…let him pass.” The lower courts and the Iowa Court of Appeals did not address Benjamin’s due process argument. Though Benjamin’s argument that he should be released from prison was found to lack merit, it may be possible that Benjamin could recover in a civil action because he was resuscitated against his wishes.
Blog post authored by Jean Krebs