On the whole, it can be argued that Ms. Robaczynski did kill Mr. Gessner. This is because she decided to forgo the patient’s treatment when that treatment was necessary for him to continue living. In fact, the nurse took active actions to disconnect the patient from his life supports.
However, the fact that Mr. Gessner would probably have died in a few hours is a major extenuating circumstance. The nurse was probably trying to alleviate the patient’s suffering (although it seems unlikely that he was suffering – in his comatose condition, he probably was unable to feel anything). Nevertheless, there might theoretically have existed a tiny possibility that the patient would survive, and it should not have been the nurse’s decision about whether or not to disconnect him from his life supports.
It is also suspicious that the nurse said she (only) does this kind of action for “GORKs” (Fry, Veatch, & Taylor, 2011, p. 233), which means that there probably have been other patients in a similar condition whom the nurse disconnected.
If Mr. Gessner had asked Ms. Robaczynski to disconnect him from his life supports, then the action of forgoing the treatment would have been difficult to classify as a murder. On the contrary, the nurse would have been simply executing the patient’s decision.
It should be stressed that generally speaking, if the patient had asked the nurse to disconnect him from his life supports, the action of not disconnecting him could have probably been viewed as some type of offense. This is because, in this situation, if the nurse had not stopped treatment, she would have been forcing the patient to take his medications and use his life supports.
Therefore, in the situation when the patient asks the nurse to disconnect him, the nurse’s action of disconnection cannot be viewed as a crime – at least because not doing this action would probably be considered an offense (and thus, if both disconnecting and not disconnecting were crimes, the nurse would commit a crime whatever she did, which is absurd). In addition, disconnecting the patient from life supports (i.e., not forcing him to take treatments) is very different from e.g., giving the patient a poison injection, which might indeed be viewed as a murder.
Fry, S. T., Veatch, R. M., & Taylor, C. R. (2011). Case studies in nursing ethics (4th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.