NANCY CRUZAN Biography - Famous Medicine & health care related men and women


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Name: Nancy Beth Cruzan                                                                   
Born: 20 July 1957                                                                       
Died: 26 Decemeber 1990                                                                   
Nancy Beth Cruzan (July 20, 1957-December 26, 1990) was a figure in the right-to-die     
movement. After an auto accident left her in a persistent vegetative state, her           
family petitioned in courts for three years, as far as the U.S. Supreme Court,           
to have her feeding tube removed. The Court initially denied the family's                 
request, citing lack of evidence of Cruzan's wishes. The family's request was             
ultimately granted by providing additional evidence. On December 15, 1990, the           
tube was removed and she died 11 days later.                                             
On January 11, 1983, she lost control of her old car that had no seat belts, was         
thrown from it and landed face down in a water-filled ditch. Paramedics found             
her with no vital signs, but they resuscitated her. After a couple weeks of               
remaining dormant within a coma, she was diagnosed as being in a persistent               
vegetative state (PVS). Surgeons inserted a feeding tube for her long-term care.         
Her husband and parents waited for a more substantial recovery, but eventually,           
after four years, accepted that there was no hope. In 1987 her parents asked to           
have Cruzan's feeding tube removed, but the hospital demanded a court order to           
that effect.                                                                             
Cruzan's family's pursuit of that court order to have the feeding tube removed           
turned into a three-year, widely publicized struggle. The trial court allowed             
the parents to discontinue tubal feeding, based on the testimony of a housemate           
of Cruzan who relayed that Cruzan would not wish to continue her life on                 
artificial support. The Missouri State Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the           
lower court did not meet the clear and convincing evidence standard. The U.S.             
Supreme Court affirmed the Missouri Supreme Court ruling in Cruzan v. Director,           
Missouri Department of Health, 497 US 261 (1990).                                         
The opinion of the Court states "for purposes of this case, we assume that the           
United States Constitution would grant a competent person a constitutionally             
protected right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition" (497 US at 279). (The       
Court noted that "most state courts have based a right to refuse treatment on             
the common law right to informed consent ... or on both that right and a                 
constitutional privacy right" 497 US at 262). The Court also held that Missouri           
was able to require a standard of "clear and convincing evidence" with regard to         
a person's wishes, and that "the State may properly decline to make judgments             
about the 'quality' of a particular individual's life and simply assert an               
unqualified interest in the preservation of human life to be weighed against the         
constitutionally protected interests of the individual" (497 US at 283).                 
After the US Supreme Court ruling, three close friends of Cruzan came forward             
with evidence that her wishes expressed when she was competent were that she             
would want the tube removed. The lower court then ruled this was clear and               
convincing evidence, and the decision was appealed.                                       
Cruzan's feeding tube was taken out in December 1990. 15 members of Operation             
Rescue, including a nurse, appeared at the hospital to re-insert the feeding             
tube, but they were arrested. Cruzan died 11 days later on December 26, 1990.             
Her father committed suicide in 1996 and her mother died in 1999. Nancy Cruzan           
had two sisters, Chris and Donna; Chris Cruzan White ran the Cruzan Foundation,           
a program that assisted others with end-of-life decisions, but closed it in 2004.