Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2020




Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law




THE United States Supreme Court's decision in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health marks its thirtieth anniversary in 2020.' This follows closely after the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.2 Anniversaries provide an opportunity for reflection and to gain perspective. We can, I suggest, gain deeper insights regarding human life and death by considering these two anniversaries together. Apollo 11 may seem far from Nancy Cruzan-but the discovery of disturbing details about the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, is a productive introduction to the topic of death in a modern American health care institution. Both anniversaries focus on individuals-Nancy Cruzan (the second woman, after Karen Ann Quinlan, to personify the American "right to die") and Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon). The stories of both Nancy Cruzan and Neil Armstrong are also tied to massive built environments: the American health care nonsystem and its hospitals and complex medical procedures, and the Apollo spacecraft and its rockets and bewildering computers. These technologies have not just changed what we can do, they have changed the way we think about ourselves and our future. This article unfolds in four parts: the death of Neil Armstrong; the death of Nancy Cruzan; Cruzan's progeny and physician-assisted suicide; and our failure to protect the rights of competent hunger-striking prisoners to refuse fluids and nutrition by labeling hunger striking as a suicidal act.

Link to Publisher Site (BU Community Subscription)



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.