Court Accepts Its First Case on ‘Right to Die’

from Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Monday accepted its first-ever “right-to-die” case, agreeing to decide whether a Missouri couple may remove their brain-damaged daughter from a life-support system.

Nancy Cruzan, 31, has been in what doctors describe as a persistent vegetative condition since a January, 1983, car crash.

Her parents, Joe and Joyce Cruzan, want to remove the feeding tube surgically implanted in her stomach. Without it, doctors say, she will die of starvation or dehydration; with it, she may live for 30 years or more.

The court said it would review a 4-3 ruling of the Missouri Supreme Court that forbade doctors to remove the tube. A decision is expected next year.


Periods of Wakefulness

Cruzan is able to breathe on her own and has periods of wakefulness in which her eyes move randomly in all directions. Doctors say she is incapable of reacting or relating to her environment and can experience no thoughts or emotions.

Her parents said their daughter at one time had said she would not want to be kept alive in such a condition.

But the Missouri Supreme Court said: “We find no principled legal basis which permits the co-guardians in this case to choose the death of their ward. The state’s interest is in the preservation of life, not only Nancy’s life but also the lives of persons similarly situated yet without the support of a loving family.


“We choose to err on the side of life, respecting the rights of incompetent persons who may wish to live despite a severely diminished quality of life.”

The state Supreme Court overturned a judge’s ruling that would have allowed the Cruzans to order the feeding tube removed.

State Has Living Will Law

The Missouri Legislature has enacted a law--a so-called living will statute--that permits the withdrawal of artificial life-support systems from hopelessly ill and injured patients. But the law specifically forbids withholding food and water from them.


The Supreme Court on Monday agreed also to take another look, in its next term, at how far states may go to prohibit advertising by lawyers.

The court said it will hear an appeal by an Illinois lawyer censured for saying on his professional letterhead that he is a civil trial specialist certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a private organization.

The Illinois Supreme Court, which disciplines that state’s lawyers, last February upheld the state rule against advertising oneself as a certified civil trial specialist.