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The court & Nancy Cruzan.

The Court & Nancy Cruzan

Nancy Beth Cruzan has lain in a persistent vegetative state without hope of recovery since an auto accident in January 1983, her life sustained by artificial nutrition and hydration. Convinced their daughter would not choose to continue to live in her present condition. Nancy's parents sought to end her tube feeding. A trial court ruling authorizing withdrawal was overturned in November 1988 by the Missouri Supreme Court, which held that Nancy's guardians could not exercise her right to refuse treatment for her and that the state's "unqualified" interest in preserving life should prevail.

Of the more than fifty "right to die" cases considered by state courts since 1976, Cruzan is the first to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The four articles that follow share a common uneasiness at finding this case before the Court, though for manifestly different reasons.

Susan M. Wolf and James Bopp, Jr., question how properly to weight patients' expressions of their wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment, and the role of family surrogate decisionmakers. Affirming the Missouri court's decision, Wolf argues, would strip us of our voices, our relationships, our very bodies, and mandate a world no one would want to live, or die in.

Bopp, president of the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent and Disabled, which filed an amicus brief in support of Missouri's ruling, applauds the decision for recognizing that the central issue is not whether Nancy's guardians may exercise her right to refuse treatment, but whether tube feeding is in her best interests.

But will patients, families, and society be best served by raising issues of terminating life-sustaining treatment in a constitutional forum? Giles Scofield, president of Concern for Dying (authors of an amicus brief supporting the Cruzan family), argues that existing doctrines of privacy and consent provide grounds for allowing treatment to be withdrawn in situations like Nancy Cruzan's.

Finally, Ira Mark Ellman contends that constitutionalizing the legal fiction that surrogates are exercising incompetent patients' rights to self-determination may set back the law on death and dying.

Whatever the final ruling, we all stand to be intimately affected by the outcome of Cruzan, for the Court now stands poised to decide how, constitutionally, we may be allowed to die.
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Title Annotation:right to die case
Author:Crigger, Bette-Jane
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:FDA's compassion for desperate drug companies.
Next Article:Nancy Beth Cruzan: in no voice at all.

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