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In re Eichner

New York Court of Appeals
420 N.E.2d 64 (1981)


Joseph Fox, member of the Roman Catholic clergy, suffered a heart attack resulting in the loss of oxygen and damage to his brain. He was placed on a respirator which controlled his breathing. He subsequently lapsed into a vegetative state. The attending physician informed Father Philip Eichner (plaintiff) that there was no reasonable chance of Fox recovering. After two neurosurgeons confirmed Fox’s diagnosis, Eichner requested that the hospital remove the respirator, but the hospital refused without a court order. It was well known that Fox would not have wanted to be on a respirator in his current state. He had formally discussed his personal views during talks about the moral implications of removing the ventilator in the famous Karen Quinlan case. At that time, Fox agreed that he would not want any extraordinary measures taken if he were in a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery. Eichner petitioned to be the guardian of Fox, which was supported by all of Fox’s living relatives. At a hearing, the District Attorney opposed Eichner’s application to remove the respirator citing that there may be a chance for some improvement in Fox’s condition. However, all medical experts agreed that there was no reasonable likelihood that Fox would ever emerge from a vegetative coma. The order of the lower court was stayed pending appeal. In the interim, Fox died despite medical measures to sustain his life.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Wachtler, J.)

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