Jenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea
Current Trends - TikTok's Josh & Maegan Barras - Episode 10
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Here we are … with another episode of Legal Tea! Today’s topic is a current trend … something going on in current time, that is pertinent to my world. So, with that introduction, we are actually going to be talking about a young couple named Josh and Maegan Barras – who have taken a front seat in many social media platforms, specifically a platform called TikTok. Which we’ll get to that in a second… Though, before I get started, I want to respectfully mention something…
This episode today is a real-life case … Josh and Meagan are real people. And their story is very sad. All around. So, if you’ve had a cruddy day, I’d consider pausing the episode and picking back up another day. *pause*
Okay, here we go … I’m sure you are wondering what’s going on with Josh and Maegan, so let’s dive in – according to an article in The Advocate, in November 2018, Josh, who is in his 30s ... or 20s ... I should have looked this up before recording, huh ...Josh, after an attempted suicide, survived but suffered from extreme brain damage due to prolonged loss of oxygen. Subsequently, in June 2019, the Judge in the 15th Judicial District Court in Lafayette, Louisiana granted Maegan request to be the “tutor” over her husband and Josh’s mother, Kelly, as the “undertutor.”
Before I go into more detail, Louisiana’s legal system is Napoleon-based meaning it has much French-influence. When I say “tutor” and “undertutor” – Louisiana refers to “tutorship” as other states would refer to as guardianship and conservatorship. (Like flash back to our prior episode on Britney Spears – Britney’s father is her conservator … if that case was in Louisiana, he’d be her tutor!)
So we have wife, Maegan, as the “tutor” of Josh and mother, Kelly, as the “under-tutor” of Josh. According to an online outfit called Exceptional Lives, which is a free service to provide information relating to disability, a “tutor” is much like what we would say is a Guardian – they’re the decision-maker. So, Maegan is the decision-maker for Josh. “Under-tutor” is a unique-to-Louisiana role in that their purpose is to ensure the “tutor” is operating in the person’s best interest. So, Kelly’s role is to make sure Maegan is operating in Josh’s best interest.
What’s strange about this is that tutorships are reserved for minors – and Josh was not a minor at this point in time. I was unable to find if this was a mistake in the Court filing – or a mistake by an attorney – or what. Nonetheless, things got cleaned up in May 2020, according to The Advocate article, when Maegan was designated as the curator (which is a tutor/guardian for ADULTS), but Kelly, Josh’s mother, was not designated as under-curator.
So what is the reason for all this tutorship/curatorship talk?
Well, Josh is in a vegetative state and is on a feeding tube and resides in a nursing home – and as The Advocate article perfectly explains the situation … the “conflict appears to be between a wife who is ready to let go and a mother who refuses to give up hope.” Maegan wishes to move Josh home from the nursing home to let him pass away – while Kelly wants to keep him alive. Hence, the scuttle-butt over the tutorship/curatorship – because the curator here, legally speaking, would have the authority to make decisions on behalf of Josh.
In March of this year, 2021, Kelly, through her attorney, filed a Motion with the Court to restrict Maegan from “taking any actions that would end Josh’s life.” In response, according to The Advocate article, the Judge granted a temporary restraining order to prevent Maegan from accelerating Josh’s death – meaning she couldn’t take him out of the nursing home he is in, couldn’t remove his feeding tube, etc.
As I sit today, recording this in August 2021, not much has happened since then. Hearings keep getting postponed – Maegan’s attorney withdrew himself, so she had to get a new attorney; Kelly was replacing her attorney for someone else … Josh, at one point, was exposed to COVID-19 … so legal process-speaking, not much has transpired since the Judge issued that temporary restraining order.
Josh and Maegan’s story made such a splash in social media – much due to Maegan highlighting things on the platform called TikTok – that Dr. Phil caught wind of it. In March 2021, Maegan and Kelly appeared on Dr. Phil (virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic) to explain both their sides. I highly recommend watching the episode – I think it does a great job at summarizing what’s transpired, puts a face to everyone’s names, and even brings on a Doctor to give his opinion.
On their episode, according to The Advocate article, Kelly believes that Maegan is exploiting the situation for money – Kelly said, “Just putting this out on social media, she’s had a venue where she could raise money. … His care is completely paid for through Medicaid. There’s really nothing that we need to purchase.”
Conversely, Maegan shared on Dr. Phil, “It’s the brain that was damaged. So basically, if Kelly says that his body his healthy, why let him go? That’s just keeping his body there when he’s not there mentally. So why is that fair or OK for him when that’s no quality of life? That would be for her comfort to see him … that would be us being selfish.”
I mentioned at the end of last week’s episode that this Josh-Maegan-Kelly saga reminds me so much of Terri Schiavo. A name some may remember – I bring her name up in client meetings often, and most remember Terri’s name, but not my younger clients.
According to Wikipedia, Terri had gone into cardiac arrest at the young age of 26 and as a byproduct of that, she suffered from massive brain damage due to lack of oxygen to her brain. Much like Josh, Terri ended up in a persistent vegetative state. Terri’s husband, Michael, wanted Terri’s feeding tube removed – and Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, wanted the feeding tube left in. Michael ended up petition the Sixth Circuit Court in Florida to remove her feeding tube, and Robert and Mary opposed the petition.
Terri’s case bounced around the legal system for years ... I think it started in the 1990s and ended in 2005 – anyway, there were 14 appeals, 5 district court proceedings, much intervention by politicians such as Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush, and 4 attempts to be at the US Supreme Court level – I mean, honestly so many motions, petitions, hearings, etc. to name and go into…
At one point in the Court saga, Terri’s feeding tube was removed (in 2001) and was re-inserted days later due to the Court proceedings. Then, in 2005, the feeding tube was removed yet again (and stayed removed) and Terri died about 2 weeks later on March 31, 2005.
When I talk about Terri in client meetings, I often say, “You know … we knew what her husband wanted, her parents wanted … we heard from various Courts … we heard from various politicians … we heard from many news anchors … but whose opinion were we missing? Terri’s.”
THIS is exactly why you do planning – you do documents like a Health Care Proxy, Living Will, Advance Directives to provide what YOUR wishes are if something happens. That way, people don’t have to guess what you wish would have been. Would Terri have wanted to stay on artificial nutrition and hydration? We’ll never know.
Among the most difficult things about Terri’s story and Josh’s story is that there really is not any beautifully perfect solution … there’s no good “happy medium” here, right? Like Terri, Josh is either going to be kept alive (through his mom’s advocacy) or pass away (through his wife’s advocacy). This “end of life” / life-prolonging (but is it or is it not life-prolonging!?) topic is one that comes with opinions from many – and of course, there are organizations that support both sides.
For example … According to The Advocate article, Josh’s mom, Kelly, was put in touch with the Life Legal Defense Foundation by the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. The Life Legal Defense Foundation is actually reportedly paying for Kelly’s attorneys to fight for Josh to be kept alive.
The CEO of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Alexandra Snyder, shared (in regards to Josh’s situation), “I have to say this case is very, very much like the Terri Schiavo case and other cases that we’ve handled. And I don’t know what it is, but in most of these cases, it’s the spouse who wants to kill the patient, and the family, either the parents or siblings, or both, who want to keep the patient alive.” Those are pretty strong words – “kill the patient.” But … Is it an accurate depiction of the situation? Or not? Ugh.
Well, stories like Josh Barras and Terri Schiavo are why I encourage people to #DoYourEstatePlan. A Living Will, Health Care Proxy, and Advance Directives – these are not-fun to talk about, but easy to have put together. So, don’t end up like Josh … or Terri … get YOUR wishes on paper.
Next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – celebrity estate planning mishaps, misfortunes, and mistakes. During that episode, we’re going to talk about one of the best musicians, Michael Jackson. Ol’ M.J. actually DID some estate planning – he did some solid estate planning actually, but he made a common mistake many people make when doing living trusts. We’ll talk about that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Talk to you then!