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In the Matter of Karen Quinlan, an Alleged Incompetent

355 A.2d 647 (1976)

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In the Matter of Karen Quinlan, an Alleged Incompetent

New Jersey Supreme Court

355 A.2d 647 (1976)

Facts

For an unknown reason, Karen Quinlan (defendant) stopped breathing for two 15-minute periods and ended up in a chronic and persistent vegetative state. This meant that the sapient or higher-functioning part of Quinlan’s brain that provides awareness was not working, and only the vegetative or regulatory part of her brain that provides basic reflexes was still operating. As a result, Quinlan was on a respirator, and it appeared that she would not live long without it. However, even on the respirator, Quinlan was physically deteriorating, losing significant weight and developing a rigid fetal position with her limbs. There was no hope that Quinlan would ever regain any cognitive functions. With the respirator’s assistance, Quinlan was expected to live in her vegetative state for about one more year. Quinlan’s father (plaintiff) sued to be appointed her guardian for the purpose of ending the respirator use and other life-saving measures. Quinlan’s doctors, government officials, and Quinlan’s existing court guardian all opposed ending the life-saving measures. The trial court denied the father’s request, and he appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Hughes, C.J.)

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