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Monday, March 28, 2005

Ind. Decisions - Indiana tackled right-to-die issue in '91

The Indianapolis Star had a front-page story Sunday by Diana Penner headlined: "Indiana tackled right-to-die issue in '91: In Schiavo-like case, parents agonized, then chose to remove tube; a legal battle followed." Some quotes:

For the first two years or so that Sue Ann lived in a Hamilton County nursing home, the Lawrances settled into a routine of visiting her, looking for signs of improvement. "She was not responsive. She would move her arms. Her mouth was open some of the time," William Lawrance recalled. "She could change her facial expressions."

The Lawrances asked Sue Ann's four siblings to write letters outlining their thoughts. They consulted their doctors. They sought counsel from their Unitarian minister. "We had come to the conclusion that it was not being kind to Sue to keep this up," her father said.

With agreement among family members and the support of doctors, friends and clergy, the Lawrances got a lawyer, who assured them the matter could be "handled quietly and privately," Bonita Lawrance recalled.

"Then -- whammo!" her husband said.

The Lawrances won a court order allowing the feeding tube to be removed, but the Hamilton County nursing home balked. Sue Ann was transferred to a Marion County hospice.

A professional association representing nursing homes alerted the media about the case, and a right-to-life attorney was appointed Sue Ann's guardian. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union aided the Lawrances through a marathon of emotion-packed court hearings.

"We were both so naive. We thought everything that happened in the courts was just the way it should be, and that you got a fair trial," Bonita Lawrance said. "It feels like a fast-moving freight train, and you can't figure out how to get off," her husband said.

In the beginning, the Lawrances had no intention of setting a legal precedent. All they wanted, they said, was the best for their daughter. They reluctantly agreed to allow Sue Ann's nutrition to be resumed in May 1991 -- they said they felt they had no choice -- while the legal arguments were being made.

"When they discontinued the feeding, it seemed like she relaxed," Bonita Lawrance recalled, and her husband continued the thought, a bit of irritation evident in his voice: "And when they put it back in, she got agitated."

Jan Lawrance, married to Sue Ann's brother Mark, was a family spokeswoman in 1991 and continues to be an advocate for the right to die. She feels sorrow for Schiavo's parents, she said, but disagrees with them. "No one wants their little girl to die," Jan Lawrence said. "The decision isn't between life and death. It's the continuation of the dying process."

On July 18, 1991, a Thursday, Sue Ann Lawrence died at 42 of pneumonia while her case was pending. Both sides urged the Indiana Supreme Court to go ahead, and in September 1991, the court ruled that families like the Lawrances, in consultation with doctors, could agree to removing a feeding tube without going to court.

"I think we had a feeling that Sue is at rest," her mother said. "And that was comforting."

The Lawrances withdrew from the public debate. They support living wills and urge people to talk about the issues, but they are not activists.

The Indiana Supreme Court case is In re Lawrance (9/16/1991).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 28, 2005 09:35 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions