Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed parents to remove a life support system from the body of their daughter after doctors deemed her vegetative state irreversible." The case, In re Quinlan, received extensive national media attention and pitted concerns about the quality of life and personal autonomy against respect for the sanctity of life. This conflict has intensified as medical technology has progressed so that patients who otherwise would die faster, natural deaths now are sustained indefinitely. Some patients and families see this life support as medical heroism, while others view it as painful,futile prolongation of death. One solution for those who wish to avoid indefinite life support is the drafting of a living will. A living will is the individual's written directive specifying that if the individual becomes terminally ill or goes into an irreversible vegetative state, the individual's care givers should not use artificial life support procedures. The primary purpose of a living will is to ensure that the individual's wishes are respected.'Proponents of the living will argue that every individual has a right to privacy and autonomy in making medical decisions. The United States Supreme Court recently recognized this right in holding that a competent person has a liberty interest under the fourteenth amendment due process clause to refuse life-sustaining treatment.