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April 22/29, 1998

Deciding Life and Death in the Courtroom: Debate and Clarification

Author Affiliations

Margaret A.WinkerMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1998;279(16):1259-1261. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-279-16-jac80007

To the Editor.—In his article on right to die cases, Mr Gostin1notes that issues now considered well settled were once bitterly contended. In his commenting on one such dispute, the 1983 Barbercase involving the withdrawal of nutrition and fluids, he writes, "In Barber, for instance, two physicians were convicted of murder for terminating life support at a patient's request, only to have the conviction vacated on appeal." That statement is incorrect. Although it is now widely believed and frequently repeated that "in that California case the two physicians were convicted on murder charges that were later reversed," the fact is that the physicians were never tried and never convicted of anything.