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Patient Fighting For Removal Of Respirator Dies Before High Court Hearing

June 30, 1986

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) _ A 37-year-old woman fighting for the right to be removed from a respirator died Sunday before the state’s highest court could hear her case.

A Superior Court judge ruled June 23 that Kathleen Farrell had the right to be taken off the respirator, but he stayed the ruling so the state Supreme Court could consider appeals by her two teen-age sons. An emergency hearing was set for Tuesday.

Mrs. Farrell, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, died early Sunday morning, said Joseph Purrazzella, attorney for the Farrells, but he did not know the cause.

Her husband, Francis, declined to comment on her death.

Purrazzella said Mrs. Farrell’s health began deteriorating several weeks ago.

″She was not getting sufficient nutrition,″ he said. ″The one thing I can tell you was that we did not disconnect″ her from the respirator.

Mrs. Farrell had refused to use a feeding tube, said Purrazzella.

Peter R. Strohm, one of two court-appointed attorneys for the Farrells’ sons, said the state Supreme Court probably would still hear the case.

Court spokesman Earl Josephson said the justices may decide to hear the case because of ″overriding public interest.″

At the June 23 hearing, Judge Henry R. Wiley ruled that Mrs. Farrell was mentally competent to decide whether to continue a life that is ″so poor, so minimal and so wracked with pain.″

Mrs. Farrell learned in 1983 that she suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which causes the fluid in the spinal column to harden and muscles to shrivel.

Attorneys had said Mrs. Farrell was completely paralyzed and unable to swallow, and had no hope of recovery. She was being cared for by private nurses at her South Toms River home when she died.

Her husband testified at the Superior Court hearing that his wife’s wish to die was a decision she made on her own. He said he supported it, and Wiley had appointed him special guardian to carry out her wish and anyone assisting him in ending her life.

Strohm, who appealed the ruling Tuesday, said that previous Supreme Court right-to-die decisions had not addressed whether disabled or diseased people who are considered competent have the right to die because they are dissatisfied with the quality of their lives.

In the Supreme Court’s landmark right-to-die ruling in 1976, the justices ruled that Karen Ann Quinlan, who also was comatose, could be removed from a respirator. Miss Quinlan survived without the device until her death last year at age 31.

The Conroy ruling came in 1985 and in another case, a state judge ruled in April that a feeding tube could be removed from 31-year-old Nancy Ellen Jobes, who he found to be in persistent vegetative state. That ruling is under appeal.

Anderson & Campbell Funeral Home said a Mass is to be celebrated for Mrs. Farrell Wednesday morning at St. Joseph’s Church in Tom’s River.

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