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Missouri Department of Health Cruzan v. Director

Who Decides?

It was the first time the High Court had entered into the right-to-die question, treading waters customarily the domain of theologians and philosophers. (The question had arisen in the courts before, most notably with In the Matter of Quinlan (1976), but the High Court had declined to review the New Jersey State Supreme Court decision.) Conservatives and the spiritually devout offered the argument that life is precious, and must be preserved at all costs. The state arugued that it is required to protect all life, which negates any wishes of Cruzan or her parents. The Cruzan case was often twinned in discussions with another significant case pending before the court regarding abortion. In each issue, the justices discussed the constitutional right to privacy and which person or party could carry out such decisions on behalf of another.

The family's lawyer, William H. Colby, presented the argument that Cruzan had said on several occasions that in the case of illness or accident, she would prefer not to live her remaining days on a life-support system, as many people often remark when the issue arises in conversation. Arguing the issue for the Missouri Department of Health, Assistant State Attorney General Robert L. Presson contended that Cruzan's utterances were not specific enough, and were inadmissible as reliable statements in a court of law. Presson asserted that Missouri was acting in Cruzan's best interest in keeping her alive and nourished, and furthermore, that her parents, even as guardians, did not possess any constitutional right to end her life. The Court's role was to determine whether the secondhand oral testimony was indeed sufficient evidence, and ultimately, since Cruzan was unable to communicate her wishes, whether her family or the state had jurisdiction over her life.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Missouri Department of Health Cruzan v. Director - Significance, The Accident, Who Decides?, Defining Life, Court Rejects Parents' Appeal, Discontinuance Of Life-support V. Assisted Suicide