Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sister Calls Death of Nancy Cruzan a Catalyst for Change

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sister Calls Death of Nancy Cruzan a Catalyst for Change

Article excerpt

FIVE YEARS AFTER Nancy Cruzan's death, Americans find it easier to talk about death, dying and the proper use of medical technology, according to her sister and other right-to-die proponents.

"Really, I think we've come a long way," said Chris White, Cruzan's sister. "There are a lot of caring medical professionals ready to listen to what patients want. "I truly believe - because of Nan's case - there are a lot of families that won't have to go to court now."

Nancy Cruzan died in a state hospital in Mount Vernon, Mo., on Dec. 26, 1990, 12 days after a judge approved her family's request to withdraw artificial feeding.

Cruzan, 33, had been unconscious and in what doctors said was an irreversible persistent vegetative state since a car accident in 1983. Her family fought for four years, including two trials and a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, before winning permission to allow her to die, as they said she would want.

In the past five years, some right-to-die proponents say, Missouri has gone from lagging behind most states in dealimg with the issue to moving ahead of many. Others say the Cruzan case has elevated public awareness as no other case has but that Missouri still has far to go in legislation for end-of-life decision-making.

Tobias Meeker, ethicist with St. John's Health Systems in Springfield, Mo., said that the Cruzan case had the greatest impact at state institutions. Most private hospitals, and those like St. John's with religious affiliations, already respected the moral wishes of the family, he said. "There are many health-care providers that are legalistic," he said. "Cruzan helped families enormously deal with those people. The other health-care providers were just the same."

Cruzan's death was the catalyst for two laws regarding end-of-life treatment.

Missouri's durable power of attorney, enacted in the early 1990s, says a person can have another person as a substitute decision-maker if he or she is unable to make decisions regarding end-of-life treatment. …

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