MOUNT VERNON, MO., DEC. 25 -- Nancy Cruzan's condition was downgraded from serious to critical today, 11 days after a feeding tube was removed from the permanently unconscious woman at her parents' request.
The condition of the 33-year-old woman who was the center of a landmark right-to-die case worsened to serious overnight and to critical in the late afternoon, said Don Lamkins, director of the Missouri Rehabilitation Center.
"Critical is the last stage before death," Lamkins said. "There's really no way of telling how long she will live. I would expect that she would live through the night at least. It could be a couple of days."
Cruzan has been in a persistent vegetative state since a 1983 car accident in which she suffered severe brain damage. Her feeding tube was removed Dec. 14 after her parents, Joe and Joyce Cruzan, won court permission.
A Florida minister, meanwhile, said he would seek a U.S. Supreme Court order to resume feeding Cruzan after a lower court refused his request.
The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney said he would cite testimony from a former chaplain at the hospital who said Cruzan had a noticeable reaction when he told her she was going to die.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Mahoney's request Monday, saying the minister from Boca Raton, Fla., has no standing in the case. A U.S. District Court judge also earlier dismissed Mahoney's petition.
Monday's ruling was the seventh time a court had refused to order restoration of the feeding tube.
Mahoney is director of the Center for Christian Activities, which is associated with the antiabortion group Operation Rescue. Members of the group have been demonstrating outside the rehabilitation center since the feeding tube was removed.
Authorities on Monday ordered the demonstrators to remove a makeshift tent they had erected on the hospital steps. When they refused, hospital employees took it down.
In a ruling earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court said Missouri could require "clear and convincing" evidence that a person in Cruzan's condition would want to die.
Jasper County Judge Charles Teel then heard testimony from friends who said Cruzan would want to die, and he ruled that her parents could have the feeding tube removed.
Mahoney's petition to the 8th Circuit said the state was violating Cruzan's rights by not forcing the hospital to feed her. It said the hearing by Teel was improper because the witnesses who testified were not cross-examined and no witnesses appeared on behalf of Cruzan.
Mahoney also contended that the state erred by not appealing Teel's order.