CRUZAN v. DIRECTOR, MISSOURI DEPT. OF HEALTH

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
88-1503
Petitioner 
Cruzan
Respondent 
Director, Missouri Dept. of Health
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance)
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Facts of the Case 

In 1983, Nancy Beth Cruzan was involved in an automobile accident which left her in a "persistent vegetative state." She was sustained for several weeks by artificial feedings through an implanted gastronomy tube. When Cruzan's parents attempted to terminate the life-support system, state hospital officials refused to do so without court approval. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state's policy over Cruzan's right to refuse treatment.

Question 

Did the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permit Cruzan's parents to refuse life-sustaining treatment on their daughter's behalf?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that while individuals enjoyed the right to refuse medical treatment under the Due Process Clause, incompetent persons were not able to exercise such rights. Absent "clear and convincing" evidence that Cruzan desired treatment to be withdrawn, the Court found the State of Missouri's actions designed to preserve human life to be constitutional. Because there was no guarantee family members would always act in the best interests of incompetent patients, and because erroneous decisions to withdraw treatment were irreversible, the Court upheld the state's heightened evidentiary requirements.

Cite this Page
CRUZAN v. DIRECTOR, MISSOURI DEPT. OF HEALTH. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 17 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1503>.
CRUZAN v. DIRECTOR, MISSOURI DEPT. OF HEALTH, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1503 (last visited September 17, 2014).
"CRUZAN v. DIRECTOR, MISSOURI DEPT. OF HEALTH," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1503.