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November 10, 1989

Dax's Case: Essays in Medical Ethics and Human Meaning

Author Affiliations

University of Cincinnati (Ohio) Medical Center

University of Cincinnati (Ohio) Medical Center

JAMA. 1989;262(18):2613-2614. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430180159054

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Donald "Dax" Cowart, a vigorous amateur athlete and recent air force jet pilot, was 25 years old in mid-1973 when he and his father were victims of a pipeline explosion in east Texas. His father succumbed within hours, but Dax survived. He suffered more than 65% body burns, was blinded and facially disfigured, and lost both hands. From the earliest moments following the explosion, Cowart insisted on being permitted to die. This was not allowed, and the events of the years that have followed might only have been written as fiction by Kafka.

Cowart's case has been presented to broad audiences of students and professionals via videotape and film (Please Let Me Die and Dax's Case) and probably is the single most discussed and debated case in medical ethics since Karen Quinlan. The essays collected and edited by Dr Kliever were written in response to the viewing of the film