In November 1983, the California Superior Court was presented with a question of first impression. In a case which attracted considerable media attention, Elizabeth Bouvia v. Riverside Hospital, the court was asked to decide whether it should authorize the state to assist a physically disabled person to commit suicide. This question arose after Elizabeth Bouvia, who is physically disabled, arranged for voluntary psychiatric admission to Riverside Hospital. She subsequently disclosed her intent to stop eating, and thereby die by starvation. She requested that hospital staff provide her with pain medication and hygienic care until she died. She stated that she no longer wished to live because of her disability, and that because of her disability, she was physically unable to commit suicide. Shortly thereafter, Riverside informed Bouvia that when her body weight fell below a certain level, steps would be taken to force-feed her. Bouvia sought and obtained counsel to avoid such action. She filed a petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary and Permanent Injunction in the California Superior Court, requesting that the Court enjoin Riverside from force-feeding her or discharging her from the hospital. In a decision outlined below, the hospital was enjoined from discharging Bouvia against her will, but her request to enjoin force-feeding was denied. That denial was stayed until January 1984 to permit application for appellate relief. In December 1983, Riverside staff determined that Bouvia's physical condition from starvation constituted a medical emergency. The hospital consequently sought and was granted a temporary restraining order to force-feed her. Force-feeding continued until Bouvia checked out of Riverside early in 1984. Her admission had at all times been voluntary. The California Supreme Court denied a petition for hearing on the substantive controversy of her case. As of the date of this writing, plans to appeal her denied injunction have been dropped. This Note will address the issues as they were presented to the court, analyze the court's decision, and in so doing explore the potential social and legal ramifications of a contrary result.
Elizabeth Bouvia v. Riverside Hospital: Suicide, Euthanasia, Murder: The Line Blurs, 15 Golden Gate U. L. Rev.