A probate judge cleared the way Friday for the parents of Nancy Cruzan, who has lingered in a vegetative state for nearly eight years, to remove the surgically implanted feeding tube that sustains her life.

The court order by Jasper County Probate Judge Charles Teel appeared to end a right-to-die case that reached the Supreme Court in June, upholding Teel's earlier decision denying Cruzan's parents permission to withdraw the tube.The family later asked for a new hearing, which produced additional testimony leading the probate judge Friday to find "clear and convincing evidence" that Cruzan's own intent, "if mentally able, would be to terminate her nutrition and hydration."

The parents, Lester and Joyce Cruzan, "are authorized to cause the removal of nutrition and hydration from our ward, Nancy Beth Cruzan," the judge wrote.

Members of the anti-abortion group Missouri Citizens for Life said they would ask Gov. John Ashcroft and the state attorney general to seek a stay of the judge's order pending a new appeal. But state authorities have promised to abide by Teel's latest decision.

Donald Lamkins, director of the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon, where Cruzan, 33, is a patient, said doctors would disconnect the tube within 24 hours.

The parents, who were at the hospital Friday, expressed relief that their ordeal is near an end.

"I hope very much . . . just to hold her hand when she goes across. That's the way I feel. She's my kid," the father said.

Cruzan has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering severe brain damage in an automobile accident on Jan. 11, 1983.

Her parents had been trying for three years to obtain permission to disconnect the tube that was surgically implanted in their daughter's stomach.