Should Nancy Cruzan, who suffered brain damage from a car accident, be hooked to a life sustaining machine for the rest of her life? Unable to move, talk, eat or even breathe on her own or should she be released from her pain and suffering? This case provided an altercation between state medical procedures supported by human preservation of life vs. human rights under the constitution and the right to refuse medical treatment.
Ms. Cruzan, a twenty-five year old, was on her way home on January 11th, 1983 when she crashed into a ditch; causing an automobile accident, which left her in a “persistent vegetative state”. (Lewin) By the time paramedics arrived on scene, she had sustained probable brain damage, composed by oxygen deprivation. The estimated length of time Cruzan suffered without oxygen was 12 to 14 minutes. The general time that permanent brain damage occurs is after six minutes without oxygen. Cruzan remained in a coma for approximately three weeks before progressing to an unconscious state. A month after her accident, surgeons implanted a feeding and hydration tube with the consent of her husband. In October 1983, she was admitted to a state hospital and doctors soon appointed the fact she did not have any chances of regaining mental stability. (“The Case”) Her vegetative state meant that Cruzan was conscious, but she was unware of her surroundings. Despite her state, Cruzan’s life expectancy was estimated to be another thirty years or so. (“Supreme Court Center”) For almost eight years, her body was rigid and her feet and hands contracted and bent. She had occasional seizures and vomited, while her eyes sometimes opened and moved, she showed no signs of recognizing her family. In 1987, Ms. Cruzan’s parents went to court asking that the feeding tube be removed and that she be allowed to pass away. Ms. Cruzan’s parents stated that, “Knowing Nancy as only a family can, their remains no question that we made the choice she would want.” (Lewin)
Because of Ms. Cruzan’s parents repeal to the right to refuse medical treatment under constitutional rights, it created controversy on the right of a hospital to withdraw life-sustaining treatment under Missouri’s procedural requirements in using clear and convincing evidence of an incompetent person to ensure there is no violation in termination of life support. (Case Briefs) This case questions the Due Process Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment permitted by Cruzan’s parents on their daughter’s behalf. (Oyez) There is in fact a law stating a right to refuse medical treatment; however, this is not applied to a person that is incompetent.
In this case, constitutional rights must be determined by balancing personal rights with state laws. The Missouri State Department of Health strongly suggested preservation of human life. Under Missouri law, there is an establishment of an evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence to support the rejection of medical treatment for an incompetent...