December 26, 2005 marks the 15th anniversary of the death of Nancy Cruzan. Nancy Cruzan was a 25-year old southwest Missouri woman who was thrown from her car in 1983 when it flipped over. Paramedics found and revived her at leat 15 minutes after the crash. She never fully regained consciousness but did achieve a status that came to be called a “Persistent Vegetative State.” Five years after her accident, her family concluded she would never return to full consciousness. Thus began a long legal battle to have her feeding tube removed so she would die. The Cruzan case became the first “right to die” case to reach the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 against the family. The court was divided. Five of the Justices wrote their own opinions. But the court did open the door to a new trial in which new evidence could be introduced. The trial court in that case ruled that the feeding tube could be removed. The feeding tube was removed moments after the ruling. Eleven days later, Nancy Cruzan died at the age of 33.

In 1996, her father, Joe, hanged himself. Two years after that, Nancy’s mother, died with cancer.

The Cruzan family lawyer during this ordeal was Bill Colby, then with a Kansas City law firm. He has since left private practice to teach and lecture on end-of-life issues.

Nancy Cruzan’s father, Joe, testified before a legislative committee in 1992 about his family’s struggle to let his daughter die [AUDIO: 12 min]. In his testimony he referred to Christine Busalacchi and her father, Peter, who were from St. Charles.. She had suffered a severe head injury in a 1987 car crash that necessitated the removal of part of her brain. She wsa declared to be in a Persistent Vegetative State and a feeding tube was inserted.

When the hospital which had been treating her told Mr. Busalacchi that it was going to discharge her and recommended he find a nursing home to care for her, he located a home in Minnesota. Mr. Busalacchi found a nursing home in Minnesota but the state sought a court order to keep him from moving her there, maintaining he wanted to move her there to disconnect her feeding tube.

Related Sites:
Interview with Bill  Colby (Hospice Foundation of America)
UVA News Makers  
The Legacy of Nancy Cruzan  (University of Virginia Health System)