The case of Nancy Cruzan opened the door to the right to die. In the shadow of recent events surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo, it is easy to lose perspective. There are three dates on her tombstone. The inscription reads:
Nancy Cruzan, the person, died seven years before her biological processes were allowed to cease and her body was let to expire. This young woman’s life story was interrupted after she lost control of the vehicle she was driving on January 11, 1983. She was thrown 35 feet from the car into a barren field, where she landed face first and experienced approximately 15 minutes of anoxia. The paramedics who arrived at the scene of the accident were able to restore her heartbeat. Her cerebral cortex, the seat of awareness and thought, was irrevocably damaged—she would never regain higher brain function. Nancy, in her permanent vegetative state (PVS) could no longer experience anything of the world around her, except perhaps pain.
Determined to see their daughter at peace, her parents undertook a prolonged legal struggle that led all the way to the US Supreme Court. If they could obtain a court order to have her feeding tube removed, Nancy who was already “gone” could be put to rest. But they were confronted with the perspectives of others for whom life in any condition, sustained by whatever means, is of absolute value. To the latter, removal of the feeding tube would be morally wrong, as it would result in the patient’s death. In addition, they argued, the action would open the door to killing people who no longer seemed of use to anyone.
A list including this and other important cases regarding end of life issues can be found at Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System website.
Serious and thoughtful homework is now underway at a lot of keyboards.
The Google Zeitgeist may not indicate as much, but I would not be surprised to see indicators there in the next week or so. Or maybe not. It could be that the issue will be seen as just another topic du jour.