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Feeding tube removed from injured woman

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. -- A young woman who was brain-damaged in a 1983 automobile accident was removed from her feeding tube Saturday, and doctors predict she will die within two weeks, a hospital official said.

Nancy Cruzan, 33, was taken off the nutrition apparatus one day after an order by Jasper County Probate Judge Charles Teel that ended a right- to-die case which reached the Supreme Court in June.

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Barbara Shoun, director of public relations for the Missouri Rehabilitation Center, indicated the surgically implanted tube had been removed from their patient, who has lingered in a vegetative state since the Jan. 11, 1983, wreck.

'The Rehabilitation Center complied with the wishes of the Cruzan family and the court order late yesterday (Friday) afternoon,' Shoun said.

Center director Donald Lamkins said Cruzan would likely die within 10 to 14 days of removal of the tube.

Cruzan's parents, who say they plan to stay by their daughter's side until she dies, have expressed relief their ordeal was near an end.

'I hope very much ... just to hold her hand when she goes across. That's the way I feel. She's my kid,' her father said.

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Cruzan's parents have been pursuing legal permission for three years to allow their daughter to die. The key move came this fall when the family found friends of their daughter who testified at a new hearing before Teel.

In his ruling Friday, Teel said the new 'clear and convincing evidence' showed that Cruzan's own intent, 'if mentally able, would be to terminate her nutrition and hydration' rather than live by artificial means.

The Carthage, Mo., judge wrote in his order: Lester and Joyce Cruzan 'are authorized to cause the removal of nutrition and hydration from our ward, Nancy Beth Cruzan.'

Members of the group Missouri Citizens for Life, which also actively opposes abortion, said they would ask Gov. John Ashcroft and the state attorney general to seek a stay of the judge's order pending a new appeal. State authorities, however, said they would abide by Teel's latest decision.

Fenella Rouse, president of a group called Concern for Dying and executive director of the Society for the Right to Die, both based inNew York, said she was pleased with Teel's ruling.

'My first feeling is personal for the whole Cruzan family that at last this enforced nightmare is over,' Rouse said. 'By their courage in making public a personal tragedy, Joe and Joyce Cruzan have helped us all to deal with issues that we would sometimes rather not think about. It is now up to us to make sure that our wishes are known so they can be honored.'

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Cruzan has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering severe brain damage in the automobile accident.

Her parents had been trying for three years to obtain permission to disconnect the tube that was surgically implanted in their daughter's stomach.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court that the woman's family failed to present 'clear and convincing' evidence in the absence of a written statement that Nancy Cruzan had expressed the desire to die rather than live in a vegetative state.

However, Cruzan's parents again asked Teel to allow them to remove the tube, citing new testimony from friends of their daughter who did not appear at the original hearing in their quest to disconnect the apparatus.

At a second hearing last month, two of Cruzan's former co-workers and one of her former employers testified about conversations in which she indicated she would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state.

The family argued successfully the new testimony should be sufficient to meet the court guidelines of 'clear and convincing' evidence of Cruzan's wishes.

Cruzan's court-appointed guardians -- lawyers Thad McCanse and David Mouton of Carthage -- also recommended the judge grant the family's request.

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'Her existence consists of total nursing care, of alternate bouts of constipation and diarrhea, of incontinence of bowel and bladder, of complete dependence on others, of meaningless eye movements, of groans, moans, spitting, snorting, grimacing and drooling, of occasional vomiting and of non-thinking reactions to stimuli which are normally painful or unpleasant,' the lawyers said in a statement to the court.

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