Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990)

Key Facts– Nancy Cruzan was rendered incompetent due to injuries sustained in a car accident, and remained alive on life support. Her parents sued to have life support withdrawn, on the grounds that this would reflect her wishes.

Issue– Do a person’s guardians have authority to have treatment withdrawn for them, when there is no clear evidence of patient’s wishes?

Holding– No

Result– Person kept alive.

Reasoning– There was insufficient evidence of Nancy’s wishes to permit refusal of treatment. While people do have the right to refuse treatment, the state’s interests in preserving life justify a requirement of evidence that the refusal, in a case like this, reflects the patient’s wishes. Frankly, this makes sense, because if the state doesn’t require this, the consequences are pretty irreversible.

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