The Case of Nancy Cruzan Essay

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The Case of Nancy Cruzan


The case of Nancy Cruzan has become one of the landmark cases for withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration because of important ethical issues the case brings to light. At the time of the case, the United States Supreme Court had already established the right of an individual to refuse medical treatment. This issue therefore is not novel to the Cruzan case. Furthermore, there was not any controversy over who was the appropriate decision maker for Nancy Cruzan. The significant issue that the Cruzan case did bring to the table of medical ethics regarded whether or not a substituted decision make could choose to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition on behalf of another
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At the time of the Court’s ruling, eighteen states and Washington, D.C. had laws that allowed family members to withhold treatment from patients lacking the capacity to make medical decisions. The majority of these statutes required that the patient be terminally ill. As of June 1998, thirteen states require that the proxy have specific authorization and/or specific conditions be met in order to withhold artificial nutrition and hydration.

The practically speaking, the case of Nancy Cruzan highlights the fact that an individual cannot rely only on telling his would be decision maker what type of care is desired should that individual become incompetent. Such evidence may not be viewed as sufficient to refuse medical treatment as happened with Nancy Cruzan. It thereby becomes important to record exactly what type of treatment should be accepted or refused if one’s decision making capacity is lost. The most common way to do this is in the form of an advance directive. Such a document would declare not only who the patient wants a surrogate decision maker, but also relates the degree of treatment desired by the patient. The presence of an advance directive makes caring for incompetent patients much easier because confusion over the patient’s wishes is avoided. Had Nancy Cruzan made an advance directive, withdrawing the artificial nutrition
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