Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health (1990)

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Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health (1990) is an important United States Supreme Court case involving an incompetent young adult and the “right to die.” This case was the first "right to die" case heard by the Supreme Court. In a 5–4 decision, the Court affirmed the Supreme Court of Missouri’s decision ruling in favor of the State of Missouri that it was acceptable to require "clear and convincing evidence" of the specific individual patient's wish to remove life support.


The main issue in this case was whether the State of Missouri could require "clear and convincing evidence" for the Cruzans' to take their daughter off life support. The Supreme Court thus decided whether the State of Missouri was violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by refusing to remove the Cruzans’ daughter from life support. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly states that "[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[.]"
Here, the Court decided that while competent individuals had the right to stop or refuse medical treatment under the Due Process Clause, the circumstances were different for incompetent individuals. The Supreme Court supported the state of Missouri's higher standard for evidence of whether the incompetent individual would want to refuse or stop medical treatment had they been able to make their own decisions. The Supreme Court held that this higher standard of evidence was constitutional since family members of the incompetent individual might make decisions that the incompetent individual would not have wanted.

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]