This morning’s keynote speaker to the Iowa Hospice Organization Fall Conference began his career grappling with end-of-life issues. Iowa native Bill Colby had only been out of law school a few years when he took on a “pro bono” public-service case, for the family of Nancy Cruzan, a woman gravely hurt in a 1983 car crash. In 1988 her family went to court to ask for removal of the only technology keeping her alive, a feeding tube. She was in a “persistent vegetative state” — a condition many people just learned about last spring with the Terry Schiavo case. The Cruzan case ultimately went to the U-S Supreme Court, in 1990 and established the right to make decisions about our medical treatment. Colby says it was “in the beginning, a case like any other case — a car wreck, a phone call in the night — but in the end, a really unique case in our history.” He wrote a book about the long case, titled “Long Goodbye, the Deaths of Nancy Cruzan.” Colby says modern medicine has presented us with a new dilemma. The vegetative state, the medical condition of Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, Terry Schiavo and thousands of other Americans, was first written up in medical literature in 1972. He says it’s the result of better accident-site resuscitation and hospital technology that let doctors bring people back from the brink, sometimes with miraculous results — but, he says, there was a growing group “that they were able to bring back, but not all the way back.” He’ll talk with delegates to the Iowa Hospice Organization about the intersection of law and ethics at the end of life, and the limited ability of law to solve the hard human questions in those cases. Colby’s keynote address begins at 8:30 this morning at the conference in Iowa State University’s Scheman Building in Ames.
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