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Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Appeal Of Ruling To Let Woman Die

June 27, 1986

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The New Jersey Supreme Court today agreed to hear the appeal of a court ruling that gave the go-ahead for a life-sustaining respirator to be removed from a terminally ill woman who wants to die.

Kathleen Farrell, 37, suffers from amyotrophic laternal sclerosis, a progressive neurological illness commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Henry H. Wiley granted her wish to be disconnected from the respirator by finding her competent to make the decision.

The Supreme Court granted a motion filed by court-appointed attorneys for Mrs. Farrell’s two teen-age sons and agreed to hear the case, allowing it to bypass the Appellate Division of Superior Court. Arguments were scheduled for Tuesday.

In his ruling, Wiley appointed Mrs. Farrell’s husband, Francis, as special medical guardian to carry out her desire to have her respirator removed. He also exempted Farrell and anyone assisting him in ending Mrs. Farrell’s life from civil or criminal liability.

The Farrells’ lawyer, Joseph Purrazzella, argued before Wiley that Mrs. Farrell has a common-law and constitutional right to refuse medical treatment.

But Peter R. Strohm, a court-appointed lawyer for her sons, argued that a Superior Court judge should not try to set a precedent in what he called an unsettled area of law and that the case should be decided by the state Supreme Court.

Strohm has refused to say how the boys feel about their mother’s wish to die, saying only that the teen-agers do not want to be involved in the decision-making process on the matter.

In 1985, the state Supreme Court ruled in the case of comatose nurshing home patient Claire C. Conroy that a feeding tube, like a respirator, is an extraordinary life support and can be removed, even if it means death.

That ruling expanded on the 1976 landmark ″death-with-dignity″ case of Karen Ann Quinlan, which allowed the comatose woman to be removed from her respirator. She survived without the device until her death a year ago at age 31.

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