Attorneys In The Case Say There Was No Winning Or Losing With PM-Quinlan Bjt
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The lawyers and judges who fought the court battle over removing Karen Ann Quinlan from life-sustaining equipment say they were neither allies nor enemies, but professionals entering uncharted legal territory.
″There was no winning and losing in that case,″ Thomas Curtin, Miss Quinlan’s court-appointed legal guardian for most of the legal dispute, said Wednesday.
Miss Quinlan, 31, died Tuesday night in a nursing home, nine years after the state Supreme Court issued its right-to-die decision that provided the first guidelines for physicians and family members in such cases.
″We were trying to grope for an answer,″ said Donald Collester Jr., who was Morris County prosecutor when the case went to trial in 1975. ″We were trying to balance the humanitarian aspects of someone whose death is being prolonged against the need for protection.″
Joseph and Julia Quinlan asked that their daughter be removed from a respirator at St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville after her doctors said she would not regain consciousness.
When doctors refused, they were on the horns of a dilemma, said Ralph Porzio, an attorney who represented two of the treating physicians.
″They were subjected to the pull by the family who were saying ... ’Whether she lives or dies, that’s up to God,‴ said Porzio. ″The pull on the other side was that in the context of life and death, they could be exposed to civil ... or criminal liability.″
The Quinlans then asked Superior Court Judge Robert Muir to order the removal and he refused. ″There is no constitutional right to die that can be asserted by a parent for his incompetent child,″ he ruled.
Curtin said the state Supreme Court’s subsequent 7-0 decision has helped professionals facing similar cases.
″I have never had any doubts about the correctness of the Quinlan decision,″ said then-Chief Justice Richard Hughes, who wrote the ruling. ″I have received many pros and cons from around the world but in conscience, I have never doubted its correctness.″
″People who have terminal illness who don’t feel they want further treatment are better protected by the Karen Ann Quinlan case. Many of the advances have been made as a result of the suffering of that family,″ said Dr. Sidney Diamond, a neurologist who testified at the Quinlan trial.
At St. Clare’s, where Miss Quinlan remained on a respirator for more than a year, the hospital policy to preserve life ″at all costs″ has changed because of the ruling, said spokesman William Huber.
If the Quinlans made their request today, it would go before a hospital ethics committee, Huber said. As a result of the court decision, removal from life-sustaining equipment has become an option, he said.
Curtin, who graduated Morris Catholic High School about 10 years before Miss Quinlan, said he talked to her during each of his visits to St. Clare’s. He said that shortly after the court handed down the decision in March 1976, he visited the hospital one last time.
″I said good-bye to her, that I hoped she understood, that I did the very best I could,″ Curtin recalled. ″I hope that was good enough for Karen Ann.″