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The right to religious beliefs is absolute but conduct in pursuance thereof is not wholly immune from governmental restraint. The public interest is thus considered paramount, without essential dissolution of respect for religious beliefs.
The central figure in this tragic case is Karen Ann Quinlan, a New Jersey resident. At the age of 22, she lies in a debilitated and allegedly moribund state at Saint Clare's Hospital in Denville, New Jersey. The litigation has to do, in final analysis, with her life, -- its continuance or cessation, -- and the responsibilities, rights and duties, with regard to any fateful decision concerning it, of her family, her guardian, her doctors, the hospital, the State through its law enforcement authorities, and finally the courts of justice. Joseph Quinlan, Karen's father, initiated an action to be appointed guardian of person and property of his daughter. Respondent guardian ad litem was appointed to protect the interests of Karen. Joseph expressed intentions to discontinue life support, if appointed. The trial court denied the request. Joseph appealed.
Did Joseph’s religious freedoms weighed against the state's interest in preservation of life present a constitutional issue?
The court held that Joseph’s religious freedoms weighing against the state's interest in the preservation of life did not present a constitutional question. Joseph’s daughter was not unconstitutionally subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because punishment was intended to cover criminal penalty. Joseph’s daughter's right of privacy could be asserted on her behalf by her guardian under present circumstances. The court affirmed the refusal to authorize withdrawal of the respirator, but appointed a new guardian of the person of his daughter with power to make decisions with regard to the identity of her physicians. The court did not prohibit the physicians from concluding that life-support should be withdrawn, but took such decision out of the trial court's jurisdiction.