Karen Ann Quinlan was born on March 29th, 1954. While she is a famous New Jerseyan, she was born in Scranton, PA, but was adopted a few weeks later and moved to Roxbury, NJ. She later graduated from Morris Catholic High School.

In 1975, while out with friends, she consumed a mixture of Valium and alcohol, stopped breathing and fell into a coma. According to Time Magazine, five months later, doctors determined she was in a “persistent vegetative state.” Her parents, even though they were devout Catholics, requested that she be removed from the respirator, believing that it constituted “extraordinary means” of prolonging her life. The church allows the withholding of “extraordinary means” to prolong life.

Prosecutors threatened her doctors with legal action if they followed the parent’s wishes, so they kept her attached to the various machines that were keeping her alive. The Quinlans went to court to remove her from the ventilator with the state opposed, saying to do so would constitute homicide. The Quinlans lost in Superior Court, but prevailed at the New Jersey Supreme Court level. The court ruled that the Quinlans’ right to privacy (on behalf of their daughter) was sufficient to trump the state’s claims.

After their successful appeal in 1976, Karen Ann was removed from the ventilator, although they left in a feeding tube which was not considered “extraordinary means.” She did not die immediately after removal of the ventilator, though. In fact, she survived another 9 years, dying of pulmonary failure brought on by pneumonia in 1985. Her case influenced both legal and medical practices, helping to establish a “right to die.”

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