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Quadriplegic Who Sought Suicide Seeks to Have Feeding Tube Removed

January 22, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A quadriplegic cerebral palsy victim who asked a court to let her starve herself 21/2 years ago now wants a county hospital to remove a feeding tube from her stomach, but officials contend her action is just another attempt to commit suicide.

In a Superior Court lawsuit filed Tuesday, Elizabeth Bouvia, 28, said the tube is causing her pain.

Superior Court Judge Warren Deering heard arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union on Ms. Bouvia’s request and said he would rule today on whether to grant a temporary restraining order blocking the force-feeding.

Ms. Bouvia received national attention 21/2 years ago when she sought a court order permitting her to commit suicide by starvation in a Riverside County-run hospital. The request was denied.

″I have not changed my mind on ... the way I felt as far as, you know, wanting to end my life. I feel the same way,″ she said Tuesday in a telephone interview from High Desert Hospital in Lancaster, her first interview in two years. ″However, I know the legal means are not there, and I am taking nutrition.″

Ms. Bouvia claims the hospital, operated by Los Angeles County, has been force-feeding her since Thursday through an uncomfortable tube that leads from her nostril to her stomach. She said doctors have threatened to cease morphine treatments she has been receiving for pain.

″All I want to do is, if I’m going to stay alive, is I just want to be comfortable,″ she said, speaking with the feeding tube in her throat.

But county attorney Don Mikesell said Ms. Bouvia’s request was nothing but a ″subterfuge and sham for her real purpose to end her life by starvation.

″There’s a concern that she really doesn’t require the morphine. If they submit the wrong dosages of morphine, those physicians could be held criminally liable.

″We are very sensitive given her history. We could be roundly criticized for letting her die in our facility.″

Ms. Bouvia went to County-USC Medical Center four months ago for relief from the pain and paralysis of her disease and was fitted with a machine that automatically injects her with morphine at prescribed intervals. She was transferred to the Lancaster hospital 50 miles north of Los Angeles last month.

She said she hasn’t been eating solid food since April because it makes her vomit, but is taking liquid nutrition as much as possible.

″I would not be eating at all if I were trying to starve myself,″ she said. ″They just all of a sudden decided, you know, that I needed to be fed through the tube.″

ACLU attorney Jackie Scheck said Ms. Bouvia has done her best to cooperate with hospital officials to prevent her from losing weight. She currently weighs 70 pounds, a 4-pound drop since August, Ms. Scheck said.

Co-counsel Richard Scott, who is also a physician, said Ms. Bouvia’s weight is ″in an acceptable range″ for someone in her condition but that the hospital says the ideal weight should be 105 pounds.

″She has practically no muscle mass left. It’s medically dopey to suggest that Elizabeth - completely paralyzed, completely spastic, a completely immobile person of 5 feet in length - should have something like the ideal weight for a 5-foot female who runs around playing tennis,″ he said.

Scott said Ms. Bouvia was mobile in her electric wheelchair during the Riverside legal battle, but now can barely move her wrist and had to sign a court declaration by holding a pen in her mouth.

The suit requests damages of $10,000 for each day the tube is left in place and seeks to bar doctors from taking her off the morphine injection machine.

Ms. Bouvia was trained as a social worker but had to give up postgraduate studies several years ago because of her disease. Doctors’ estimates for her survival have ranged from months to several years, Ms. Scheck said.

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