At the young age of 21, Karen Ann Quinlan fell unconscious after coming home from a party near her home in New Jersey. She subsequently lapsed into a persistent vegetative state. She was kept alive on a ventilator for several months without improvement. Her parents asked the hospital staff to discontinue active care and allow her to die. Karen was quoted as saying she never wanted to be kept alive by extraordinary means. The hospital refused and subsequent legal battles made the headlines.
Eventually the court allowed removal of Karen’s breathing tube, establishing a groundbreaking legal precedent. Karen’s case is also credited with the development of formal ethics committees in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices and the development of advance health directives.