THE COURT UPHOLDS THE RIGHT TO REFUSE LIFE-SUSTAINING DEVICES
FOR NONTERMINAL, INCOMPETENT PATIENT SUFFERING FROM
In re Claire C. Conroy (Supreme Court. N.J., 1985), Claire Conroy, an 84-year-old,
nursing-home resident who was not comatose, was permitted to have life-sustaining
devices withdrawn, although she had no written living will and the treatment involved
food and fluids rather than extraordinary treatment.
Mrs. Conroy was suffering from severe and irreversible arteriosclerotic heart disease,
hypertension, diabetes, incontinence, mental impairment, and she could not swallow
food and water. Her nephew requested that the nasogastric tube extending from her
nose to her stomach be removed. He based this request on knowledge of his aunt's
beliefs and the testimony of a Catholic priest regarding church doctrine on euthanasia.
The court ruled that withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment was warranted since there
was evidence that the patient would have refused treatment. Furthermore, the
burdens of treatment (continued suffering) outweighed the benefits (a few months
more of life with a limited capacity to enjoy life and loved ones).
b. Competent Patient Who Is Not Terminally Ill. When the patient is not
terminally ill, courts have declined to order treatment when the intervention is major,
such as the amputation of a gangrenous limb. However, there is some controversy
when a rational person, who is still competent and neither terminally ill nor in a
persistent vegetative state, chooses death over life.
PATIENT REFUSAL GENERALLY PREVAILS FOR:
Terminally ill (competent, incompetent, minor).
Major intervention (competent patient).
STATE INTEREST IN LIFE GENERALLY PREVAILS FOR:
Curable incompetent adults.
Figure 2-8. The state interest in preserving life generally prevails when protecting the
interests of non-terminal minors and incompetent adults with curable
For example, a quadriplegic or an individual suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
(ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The Nevada court (previous chart,