Karen Ann Quinlan

Karen Ann Quinlan ( March 29, 1954 Scranton, Pennsylvania) – June 11, 1985 Morris Township (New Jersey ) is an American who is emblematic of the history of the right to euthanasia . Her case has been widely known and has given rise to many debates on bioethics , euthanasia, legal custody and civil rights .


In April 1975 , Karen Ann went on a draconian diet, and fell into a coma during a party. A few minutes later, she is found unconscious and without breathing. Ranimée, doctors at Newton Memorial Hospital find that she has suffered irreversible brain damage, and is connected to an artificial respirator. Despite the lesions, she waved her arms and turned her head, as if she was partly conscious.

She was then moved to St Clare Hospital, still in New Jersey. Karen Ann’s members move to the point of getting stuck, which hardly improves her condition.

On June 30 of the same year, although they were believers, his parents signed the necessary authorizations to disconnect him from the respirator, with other care being maintained. The hospital authorities refuse, as the parents do not have legal custody of Karen Ann (she is 21 years old at that time).

On September 9 , 1975 , Parent’s lawyer filed an application to be heard in a New Jersey court. This is the beginning of an unprecedented judicial and media saga in the United States. The pro-life proponents claim that Karen must remain alive at all costs, for to decide his death is equivalent to replacing God . Others are opposed and are in favor of quality of life. The parents want Karen’s suffering to stop.

Journalists invade the village where the Quinlan live and track their every move. Indeed, this cause is covered both by The New York Times , NBC and Associated Press , three major American media. Also, newspapers around the world will take up several articles published in the United States.

Virtually all physicians contacted refuse to take a decision in court. The Quinlan still managed to make some brain disorder specialists hear.

On November 10, 1975, the court rejected all the arguments, both constitutional and religious, invoked by the Quinlan lawyer. It must interpret these arguments, which is not within its purview, but of the Supreme Court. The lawyer appealed to a higher court but the Supreme Court of New Jersey short-circuited him and decided to hear the Quinlan case on January 26, 1976. On March 31 of the same year, he rendered his judgment Unanimously: the parents have legal custody of Karen Ann; She further asserts that Karen is entitled to the protection of her privacy. In addition, the court says that if death occurs after the disconnection, it will not be a homicide but a death due to a natural cause.

However, weeks passed and the doctors refused to disconnect, claiming that Karen would die. At a tense meeting with doctors and hospital officials, parents learn that the nun at the head of the hospital’s board feels morally incapable of ordering the disconnection.

Finally, a physician begins to gradually unplug the respirator. After a few days, she breathes on her own. All the institutions contacted refuse to welcome Karen for lack of qualified staff or adequate facilities. They also have to rely on media pressure and attacks from pro-life proponents. Following an administrative change, the Morris View Clinic agreed to welcome Karen Ann.

Installed in its new room, it will be artificially fueled for another nine years, before being extinguished in 1985.

A film for television will be made on the case of Karen Ann.


  • ( In ) Joseph Quinlan, Karen Ann , 1978 Albin Michel – Opera Mundi . Joseph Quinlan, Karen Ann: The Quinlans Tell Their Story , 1977. ISBN 0-385-12666-2 )
  • ( By ) Julia Duane Quinlan My Joy, My Sorrow: Karen Ann’s Mother Remembers , 2005. ( ISBN  0-86716-663-0 )
  • Karen Ann , Joseph Quinlan, Julia Quinlan and Phillys Battelle, Reader’s Digest Selection, October 1978. ISSN 0037-1378.