Right-to-die case dropped by Missouri Court ruling allows removal of feeding tube

January 27, 1993|By Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In an unceremonious end to a highly publicized case, the Missouri Supreme Court used just eight words to clear the way for Christine Busalacchi's family to remove her feeding tube.

But the Busalacchi family announced yesterday that despite the court's decision, the brain-damaged woman would continue receiving medical treatment.

"The family has decided that for the foreseeable future Christine will remain in the state hospital in St. Louis, receiving all of the care she now receives," said the Busalacchi family's attorney, William Colby.

Mr. Colby did not explain the family's decision.

For more than two years, the Busalacchi family had fought the state of Missouri over whether Christine Busalacchi could be taken to another state and whether her feeding tube could be removed.

Ms. Busalacchi, now 22, suffered severe brain damage after a 1987 car accident. She has been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery.

Under Missouri Attorney General Bill Webster, attorneys for the state argued that she had shown signs of improvement and that her family should be blocked from ending her life support.

Within two hours of taking office this month, however, current Attorney General Jay Nixon sought to dismiss the case altogether. Mr. Nixon, fulfilling a campaign pledge, said family members should be allowed to make medical decisions without the intervention of the government.

The Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City yesterday dismissed the appeal, dropping the right-to-die case without comment. The action by the state's highest court lets stand a lower-court ruling made in January 1991 by a St. Louis County probate judge.

That ruling denied a request by the state to block Ms. Busalacchi's father from taking his daughter to another state for further evaluation or from ending her life support.

For years, Pete Busalacchi has told anyone who would listen that he had determined that his daughter would not recover and that she should be allowed to die.

In an emotional hearing in November 1991, Mr. Busalacchi told a judge that his daughter would not want to continue living in her current condition.

"It's not what my daughter would want," Mr. Busalacchi said. Mr. Busalacchi also told the judge: "We would like to remove the feeding tube."

From the statement issued yesterday by his attorney, however, it would seem that Mr. Busalacchi has put off that decision.

By not immediately removing his daughter's feeding tube, Mr. Busalacchi may be avoiding the circuslike atmosphere that likely would surrounded removal of his daughter's feeding tube. Delaying the end of Ms. Busalacchi's life support could allow public attention to wane and thus diminish the likelihood of protests if and when the tube is removed.

Missouri right-to-life supporters and some advocates for the disabled, however, saw the court's decision as an ominous sign.

"Even for able-bodied people, the future is murky," said Barbara O'Mara, president of Missouri Right to Life. "If they become seriously impaired through accident or injury, their right to live will not be defended by our state."

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