Chapter 6: Rights, Truth and Consent

Section 4. Readings Cowart and Burt

Dax Cowart and Robert Burt.  Confronting Death: Who Chooses, Who Controls? Hastings Center Report, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1998), pp. 14-17.

Dax Cowart was blinded and disabled when he started his car in 1973 and set off two propane gas explosions that burned 75 percent of his body and killed his father.

Today, he is a successful attorney, married and with "a better quality life than most other people."

But he says he still wishes doctors had let him die rather than face the agony of his burns, as he begged them to during 15 months of treatment in three hospitals.

Doctors had no right to keep him alive against his own wishes, Cowart says.

Yale Law School professor Robert Burt disagrees.

Burt says Cowart didn't understand the quality of life he could eventually enjoy. He says Cowart also showed signs he wasn't sure he wanted to die.

Cowart says Burt doesn't understand. "The price in terms of pain was much too high. People, for some strange reason, don't seem to be able to understand that pain can be so terrible that death is a better option."

Cowart, 48, now free of pain and glad to be alive, is still arguing that he had a right to die. His opinions have kept his case at the forefront of debate over when a patient has the right to refuse treatment.

Cowart criticizes his doctors for not giving him enough medication to control the pain. But his strongest complaint is that they ignored his demands to die. If they had let his skin infections spread, he would have died.

"I believe the right to control your own body is a right you're born with," he said. "It's something you don't have to ask anyone else for."

Proceed to the READINGS section of the chapter by clicking here> section.

Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.

Return to:                 Table of Contents for the Online  Textbook