A tragic case of mistaken identity turned out to be the end for a New York man whose life support was pulled with the assent of a total stranger.
Now the woman who signed off on the life-ending decision is suing St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx for putting her family through the grief.
Last summer, Shirell Powell sat for days at what she thought was the bedside of her dying brother, Fred Williams, who was admitted to the hospital unconscious with brain damage following a drug overdose, according to the Associated Press.
Powell said she eventually authorized doctors to stop life support and was arranging her brother’s funeral when officials revealed there had been a big mistake. It turned out the unconscious patient was a different 40-year-old African-American man named Fred Williams ― Freddy Clarence Williams, to be specific ― and not her brother, who has no middle name.
Powell’s brother was actually in jail on a July 1, 2018, assault arrest, according to the New York Post.
“I nearly fainted because I killed somebody that I didn’t even know. I gave consent,” she told the paper. “I was like, ‘Where is my brother? What is going on?’ I was devastated.”
The error was discovered when the city medical examiner’s office performed an autopsy, according to The Washington Post.
Powell is suing for unspecified damages in Bronx Supreme Court, accusing the hospital of negligence and contending it caused her “severe emotional harm.”
She told the New York Post that her sister initially thought the man in the hospital bed was not their brother. However, she said they concluded that he was simply hard to recognize due to the swelling.
Powell’s lawyer, Alexander Dudelson, said that his client would like to reach out to the other man’s family to express her condolences but that neither the medical examiner’s office nor the hospital would give them any information, citing privacy concerns.
The incident has led to some awkwardness between Powell and her brother, whom she has since called at Rikers Island.
“He was saying, ‘You were going to kill me?’” Powell told the New York Post. “I explained to him, once you’re brain-dead, there is nothing to do.”
Williams told that paper that he’s not mad at his sister but is angry at the hospital. “How could the hospital do something like that? Look what they put my family through,” he said.
A St. Barnabas spokesman told HuffPost that the hospital won’t comment on pending litigation other than to say the lawsuit is without merit.