Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health

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Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health (1990) was a Supreme Court case concerning the so-called right to die. Nancy Cruzan was a 32-year-old woman who was incompetent due to having received severe injuries in an automobile accident seven-and-one-half years earlier. Her parents wanted to terminate her artificial nutrition and hydration, but the hospital refused. Missouri requires evidence of the incompetent’s wishes to be clear and convincing, and they did not find that in Nancy’s case. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in a 5–4 decision, upheld the state. He balanced liberty against relevant state interests and thought that Nancy’s observation that she did not want to live life as a “vegetable” was not enough evidence. He thought there was no substantial proof that her parents’ views reflected hers. The dissenters, on the other hand, thought that Nancy was entitled to die with dignity. She had the right to be free from unwanted medical intervention, and the control should be in the hands of persons who have her best interest at heart, not the state legislature. One of the outcomes of the case was that most states now have living will laws that allow individuals to make their wishes about medical treatment known in advance of a crisis that may render them unable to speak.

Robert W. Langran

Last updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Washington v. Glucksberg