CARTHAGE, MO., DEC. 15 -- The feeding tube has been removed from a comatose woman at the center of the Supreme Court's first right-to-die case, and she is likely to die within two weeks, doctors said today.
Nancy Cruzan has been unconscious for seven years following a car accident. On Friday, her physician at the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon removed the tube that has been keeping her alive, shortly after a judge ordered the center to accede to the family's wishes to allow her to die.
The physician, James C. Davis, testified three years ago that he opposed removing the feeding tube from the 33-year-old woman. However, he said in court last month that he now believes it is in Cruzan's best interest to end her "living hell."
"I wouldn't want to live like that," Davis said today.
Lester and Joyce Cruzan were at their daughter's side when Jasper County Probate Judge Charles Teel's ruling was announced Friday. They had fought since 1987 to have the tube removed, taking the case to the Supreme Court.
The state is no longer a legal party in the matter and will not try to intervene, said Gov. John Ashcroft (R).
Although food and water were withdrawn, Cruzan will continue to receive medication, mainly sedatives, and doctors said she should die peacefully.
"It will be very hard on the family . . . but it's the right thing to do," said Ronald Cranford, a Minneapolis neurologist who has examined Cruzan.
Doctors have said there is no hope of recovery for Cruzan, who suffered severe brain damage when her car ran off a road and overturned, ejecting her, on Jan. 11, 1983.
In his order, Teel said he believed there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Cruzan would want to die. Three former co-workers testified in November that they had conversations with Cruzan in which she stated she would not want to be kept alive by medical machines should she become incapacitated.
The Cruzans also maintained that they knew their once-vivacious daughter would never want to live in her present condition. Her ailments include seizures, vomiting, bleeding gums and severely contorted limbs.
The state opposed the Cruzans' requests to remove the tube, and Teel's ruling in 1988 on behalf of the parents was overturned.
The issue then went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in June that Missouri could require "clear and convincing" proof Cruzan would want to die and returned the case to Teel to decide whether such proof existed.