September 14, 2006

Attorney to discuss right-to-die cases

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — William H. Colby, the attorney who argued the first right-to-die case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, will deliver the 2006 Dr. Arthur Grayson Distinguished Lecture later this month at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school.

Colby's lecture, "From Cruzan to Schiavo: Lessons Learned," is set for 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28, in the School of Law's Hiram H. Lesar Law Building auditorium. The event is free.

Media Advisory


Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the lecture. William Colby will be available for interviews after the lecture. For more information, contact Alicia Ruiz, assistant dean for administration, at 618/453-8700.


Colby, an outspoken advocate for legal and ethical issues involving care at the end of a person's life, will be able to discuss "the human element — how these philosophical issues affect the actual people involved," said Marshall B. Kapp, the law school's Garwin Distinguished Professor of Law and Medicine.

Colby represented the family of Nancy Beth Cruzan, a 25-year-old Missouri woman left in a persistent vegetative state from a 1983 car crash. The family in 1987 began seeking to have their daughter's feeding tube removed, and the case drew national attention when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in December 1989. A majority of the court ruled in June 1990 that incompetent people couldn't exercise a right to refuse medical treatment absent "clear and convincing evidence" of prior desires to withhold such measures. New evidence was later presented to a state court in Missouri concerning Cruzan's prior wishes, leading to removal of the tube in December 1990. She died less than two weeks later.

At the time Colby began in the Cruzan's case he was a corporate attorney for a large firm in Kansas City, Mo., and accepted the guardianship rights case on a pro bono and voluntary basis, Kapp said. It subsequently changed Colby's whole focus, Kapp said.

"He spends his professional life now devoted to studying, writing and speaking about the legal and ethical aspects of end of life issue," Kapp said.

"He's not a doctrinaire; he's not a zealot," Kapp said. "He is a strong advocate of individual autonomy regarding medical decisions. However, he is sensitive to the fact that these are controversial issues and that people on all sides of these issues are very sincere and well motivated. He doesn't demonize those with whom he disagrees.

"He will bring an even-handedness and recognition that these are not simple issues," Kapp said. "He's sensitive to just how deeply people on all sides feel about their positions."

In 2005, the case involving Terri Schiavo also generated a national right-to-die debate that ultimately involved the federal courts, Congress and President George Bush.

"I hope the public audience will better understandhow they can talk about thiscomplicatedquestion: What would you want if you found yourself in Terri Schiavo's shoes? " Colby said. "I hope they'll understand why, as medical technology continuesto advance,such conversation is critically important. And I hope that thelaw students willhear a story aboutone lawyer doing pro bono legal work, and tuck in the back of their minds that they plan to dosome of that kind of workone day, too."

Colby is a senior fellow with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Washington, D.C. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing from Knox College in Galesburg. He ranked first in his class when he graduated from University of Kansas School of Law in 1982. In addition to appearing on numerous television news shows, Colby has written "Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan," and his newest book, "Unplugged: Reclaiming Our Right to Die in America," published in May.

The lecture provides an excellent opportunity to present to students, faculty and the community national leaders in the fields of law and medicine, Kapp said.

He hopes those attending the lecture "come away with a belief that these very important issues need to be handled with civility and respect for everyone involved rather than treating these issues as one-sided political causes to be blindly pursued."

The Garwin Family Foundation, created in 1993 for the purpose of fostering educational and academic research, funds the Grayson Distinguished Lecture. Ruth and Leo Garwin were founding members of the foundation. The lecture honors Ruth Garwin's brother, Arthur Grayson, a Los Angeles surgeon who died in 1990.

Addressing social and health issues is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.