In the wake of Nancy Cruzan's death, combatants over the right to die are ready for fresh debate in the Missouri Legislature.
Ms. Cruzan, who died Wednesday at age 33, had been hospitalized with no hope of recovery since a 1983 car wreck. Her parents had tried since 1987 to have the woman's life-sustaining feeding tube removed so she could die.Finally, after a legal fight that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the family got what it sought. A judge subsequently ruled that the family had presented "clear and convincing" evidence - the standard set for Missouri by the Supreme Court - that Ms. Cruzan would not want to live in a persistent vegetative state.
The years of litigation were prompted partly because Ms. Cruzan left no written instructions about how to handle her incapacity.
With the Cruzan case in mind, state Sen. Bob Johnson is sponsoring a "health care surrogate bill" that he says would prevent others in Missouri from having to face the same legal ordeal. He failed in a bid to get similar legislation passed in the last session.
His bill would allow a person to sign legal documents designating one or more people - family or friends - to make any health care decision when the person becomes incapacitated. Their advance instructions could include approving withdrawal of food and water.
Johnson said this would more than meet the legal standard of "clear and convincing" evidence.
"If you sign this document, there's no question that you wouldn't have to go through what the Cruzans faced because it would be out of the court system," he said.
Missouri law currently has only the Living Will Statute, which allows a person to leave written instructions about medical care. But it applies only when the person is in a terminal condition, and specifically excludes withdrawal of food and water to a patient.
"This is not a euthanasia bill. This is not designed to induce the painless death of a person. It's to be used in cases where there is no chance of recovery," Johnson said, recalling arguments against the measure.
Lou DeFeo, the Catholic Conference lobbyist who organized opposition to Johnson's bill, said he'll be back in 1991 to work against the bill.
"The major defect is there are no safeguards for a vulnerable person, and the persons most in need are the ones who will be the most vulnerable," DeFeo says.