Reprinted from Presbyterians Pro-Life NEWS, Spring, 1991
Who was Nancy Cruzan? Who is Christine Busalacchi? Where is the Church?
"…[O]nce euthanasia is permitted in principle, the denial of food and water will undoubtedly be replaced by quicker and more aesthetic means."
Nancy Cruzan died of dehydration by court order on December 26, 1990, following 12 days without food or water. She was 33 years old. Nancy was severely disabled as a result of a car injury in 1983. She was not dying. Following her accident she ate mashed potatoes, bananas, eggs and link sausage.
Cruzan's care wasn't "exceptional"
A gastrostomy tube was implanted, even though Nancy could chew and swallow, in order to make her long term care easier. When the decision was made to remove the tube, no one attempted to assess her ability to swallow. Spoon feeding in her case was judged to be "morally repugnant" and "totally inconsistent" with what was wanted, according t a doctor who evaluated her.
Nancy could hear and see; smiled at amusing stories; cried at times when visitors left; sometimes tried to form words; experienced pain. She required no care except food and fluids, personal hygiene and repositioning to prevent bedsores. She could have been cared for at home.*
Busalacchi's "vegetative state"
Christine Busalacchi is 20 years old. She was severely brain-injured in a car accident in 1987 and currently resides in the Missouri Rehabilitation Center, the same center that cared for Nancy Cruzan. Her condition is described as "persistent vegetative state." Christine can speak simple words, mover her hands and legs on request, form emotional attachments, smile, and interact with people in her room. She is not dying. She is not on life-support machines. She is not receiving any extraordinary care. Her father is seeking her transfer to Minnesota for the purpose of removing her feeding tube.*
There is significant opposition to withdrawal of food and water
These cases and others like them, are stirring debate in our nation. Courts all the way to the Supreme Court are involved. There seems to be growing support for withdrawal of food and water. But no everyone agrees. Richard John Neuhaus, in The Religion and Society Report, May 1988, mentioned a statement expressing an alternative perspective, called "Feeding and Hydrating the Permanently Unconscious and Other Vulnerable Persons." Among the signatories was now-deceased Princeton theologian Paul Ramsey.
"Withdrawing food and water is a form of euthanasia," says Neuhaus. "It is usually a prolonged and ugly way of killing someone. Therefore, once euthanasia is permitted in principle, the denial of food and water will undoubtedly be replaced by quicker and more aesthetic means."
The obligation to care for life has always been considered fundamental to the mission of the church.
*The description of Nancy Cruzan is taken from transcripts of the court records, 3/9/88 - 3/11/88 and 11/1/90. Description of Christine Busalacchi is from Pro-Life Action Ministries, Minneapolis, MN.