More than a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an individual’s right to privacy includes the right to make medical decisions affecting their bodies. This right exists even if the decisions result in death.1 As stated by Judge Benjamin Cardozo, “[e]very human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body.”2

Yet, an individual’s right to make medical decisions becomes more complicated when the patient is comatose. What if the agent under a health care proxy refuses to comply with the principal’s stated wishes in a living will? What if the language of the living will is too general or too specific? What if there is no health care proxy or living will? This article looks at the history of this issue and how it is addressed today.

Early Cases

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