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Christine Busalacchi Dies - Was At Center Of Lengthy Right To Die Case

March 8, 1993 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A five-year battle over Christine Busalacchi’s right to die ended with the severely brain-injured woman’s death Sunday after her feeding tube was removed. She was 22.

Ms. Busalacchi, who had been transferred to Barnes Hospital on Feb. 18, died there Sunday morning, the hospital said in a statement.

The cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest as a result of dehydration.

The comatose woman’s feeding tube was disconnected after a team of neuroscientists at Barnes determined that she was in a persistent vegetative state.


Though the hospital refused to say when the tube was removed, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was removed sometime in late February.

Experts said patients in a persistent vegetative state typically die of dehydration 10 to 14 days after removal of a feeding tube.

The hospital’s statement said Ms. Busalacchi did not suffer: ″By definition, it is impossible for people with PVS to feel thirst, hunger, pain or suffering.″

Ms. Busalacchi had been comatose since suffering severe head injuries in a 1987 traffic accident. She had been the subject of a long and often bitter court struggle over whether her father, Peter, had the right to allow her feeding tube to be disconnected.

In November 1987, Ms. Busalacchi entered the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon - the same state-run hospital where Nancy Cruzan stayed until her family won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing her feeding tube to be removed so she could die.

A few days after Ms. Cruzan’s death on Dec. 26, 1990, Busalacchi tried to move his daughter to Minneapolis, where state law would have allowed doctors to disconnect her feeding tube.

His efforts were thwarted by a court order obtained by hospital officials, and a lengthy legal battle with state officials ensued.

That battle ended early this year when newly elected state Attorney General Jay Nixon decided not to pursue the state’s efforts to keep Ms. Busalacchi alive.

On Jan. 26, the Missouri Supreme Court granted Nixon’s motion to dismiss the case, leaving Busalacchi free to decide his daughter’s fate.

Twenty-three days later, the father authorized Ms. Busalacchi’s transfer from the Midtown Habilitation Center, run by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, to private Barnes Hospital.


State regulations barred the removal of Ms. Busalacchi’s feeding tube at the state-run hospital, but no such rule applied to the private hospital.

The right-to-die issue captured national attention in 1976 when New Jersey’s highest court allowed the family of Karen Ann Quinlan to order the removal of a respirator helping her breathe.

Ms. Quinlan, in a similar coma-like condition to that of Ms. Cruzan and Ms. Busalacchi, continued to be fed through a tube and lived nine more years.