Ky. Supreme Court Rules Family Members Of Comatose Patients Can Stop Life Support

By Dina Kaplan

(LOUISVILLE, August 27th, 2004, 6 p.m.) -- The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that relatives of a person permanently unconscious can cut off their life support. This is an issue Kentucky families have struggled with recently. WAVE 3's Dina Kaplan reports on the agonizing dilemma of deciding when it no longer makes sense for a loved one to live.

The Terry Shiavo case last year showed how the so-called right to die issue sits at the crossroads of the most difficult decisions about life, death and individual rights.

In Louisville, Hugh Finn, a former WAVE 3 anchor, was in a coma for years after a car accident in 1995. His wife, Michelle, went to court to win the right to take her husband off life support. It became a public battle for what Michelle calls "a very personal decision -- and it needs to be based on each individual involved."

On Thursday the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the right of relatives or legal guardians to allow someone permanently unconscious to die. Kentucky Right To Life was disappointed by the decision, based on a Lexington case in which the plaintiff has already passed away.

Margie Montgomery says she worries about a precedent being set by the ruling and similar cases "which are taking away the rights of individuals to be given basic care in either the last stages of an illness or if they are incapacitated."

The ruling upholds a 1994 state law -- the Living Will Directive Act -- sponsored by Senator David Karem.

Despite the ruling, Members of Right To Life say this is a human rights issue. "I think it's up to the state to protect individuals, not put them at risk," Montgomery says.

Michelle Finn and Right To Life to agree on one thing: the importance of a living will -- writing down your wishes for other family members so they will know how to proceed if ever faced with this terrible dilemma. "Someone close to that person should know what that person would want."

Martha Sue Degrella's family decided to take away her feeding tube in 1990. On Friday we spoke to her sister-in-law, who told us she was glad the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the state law because she would never want another family to go through what we went through.

Online Reporter: Dina Kaplan

Online Producer: Michael Dever