No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law. This notion of bodily integrity has been embodied in the requirement that informed consent is generally required for medical treatment. Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient's consent commits an assault, for which he is liable in damages. The informed consent doctrine has become firmly entrenched in American tort law. The logical corollary of the doctrine of informed consent is that the patient generally possesses the right not to consent, that is, to refuse treatment.
Petitioners, parents suing on their behalf and on behalf of their daughter, requested a court order directing the withdrawal of their daughter's artificial feeding and hydration equipment after she was rendered vegetative in an auto accident. The court order was denied. On appeal, the appellate court denied their petition holding that petitioners lacked authority to effectuate the request because there was no clear and convincing evidence of the daughter's desire to have life-sustaining treatment withdrawn as required under the Missouri Living Will statute, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 459.010 et seq. (1986).
Did the parents have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment for their daughter?
The Court affirmed the judgment denying petitioners' the right to disconnect their daughter's artificial feeding and hydration equipment. It said that the Due Process Clause, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, did not require the state to repose judgment on matters concerning the right to refuse treatment with anyone but the patient herself. The Court held that a state could choose to defer only to the patient's wishes rather than confide the decision to close family members.