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Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan

  • August 31st, 2021

William H. Colby, Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan. (Hay House, Carlsbad, CA: 2002).

 

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When Bill Colby first heard of Nancy Cruzan, he was 31 and new to a large Kansas City law firm. An attorney with lots of energy but not much experience, Colby seemed the perfect person to tackle a case the firm had agreed to accept on a pro bono (free) basis. It involved a young woman who had been in a persistent vegetative state for more than four years. Her family was seeking court permission to have her feeding tube removed. A colleague assured Colby that the matter would probably amount to 'no more than a half-day trial in probate court.'

This book is Colby's spellbinding and moving account of how that half-day stretched into a three-year legal battle that changed forever the way Americans think and talk about death. In time, a blue-collar family from a small Missouri town would find itself thrust uncomfortably into the national spotlight, and Colby, the greenhorn lawyer, would find himself arguing the first right-to-die case before the United States Supreme Court.

Bill Colby is an exceptional storyteller, and his account of the Cruzans' long struggle to allow Nancy to die the death she would have wanted belongs solidly in the ranks of legal thrillers like A Civil Action and Erin Brockovitch. The real-life plot has more twists and turns than a detective novel and builds to several dramatic climaxes. Future attorney general John Ashcroft and future Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr have cameo roles. Few will be able to put the book down.

But this is not simply the story of how Nancy Cruzan won the right to die, or of an inexperienced lawyer's trial by fire. The book also looks behind the scenes at the painful human cost exacted in a highly public legal fight. Most memorably, it is the story of Nancy's father, Joe Cruzan, a strong-willed sheet-metal worker who in Colby's skilled rendering becomes a tragic and unforgettable hero.

After reading Long Goodbye, those who have not done so will surely be moved to have 'the talk' with their loved ones'”a conversation that conveys their wishes regarding life-prolonging measures'”and to draw up a 'living will' that formalizes those wishes. If not, they risk being consigned to the state of half-death that Nancy Cruzan and her courageous family endured for seven anguished years.

To learn more about living wills and other medical directives, click here.

 


Last Modified: 08/31/2021
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