Landmark Ethics Cases- The Case of Karen Quinlan (1 credit hour)

Program Summary:  This course looks at the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan, one of the first ‘right to die’ cases in US legal history.  The case examines the dilemma of Karen Quinlan’s right to privacy versus the State’s interest in preserving life.  The course explores topics of privacy, the definition of death, the rights of the incompetent, liability, the ethics committee, judicious neglect and parens patria.  The case was ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey where Judge Hughes appointed Karen’s father as her guardian and authorized the removal of the respirator.

“The State’s interest to maintain life weaken, and a patient’s right of privacy grows, as the degree of bodily invasion increases and as prognosis dims.  Ultimately there comes a point at which the individual’s rights overcome the State’s interest.” (Judge Hughes of the New Jersey Supreme Court, 1976)

This course is recommended for social workers and is appropriate for beginning,  intermediate, and advanced levels of practice.  This course is not recommended for NBCC credit.

Find the reading at:

Course Reading:  Landmark Cases- A Study Guide for Ethics Committees;  Withdrawing a respirator- The case of Karen Ann Quinlan at

Publisher:  The Center for Practical Bioethics- Bioethics Development Group

Course Objectives:  To enhance professional practice, values, skills, and knowledge by exploring key concepts for end-of-life ethical decision making.

Learning Objectives:  Describe the case for Karen Quinlan’s right to privacy.  Describe the doctors’ interest in the preservation of life.  Describe efforts to define death.  Explain the term judicious neglect.  Describe the role of the hospital ethics committee.

Review our pre-reading study guide.

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1: Karen Ann Quinlan was left in a chronic vegetative state due to
2: Who sought appointment as her guardian along with the authority to terminate  'all extraordinary medical procedures?'
3: The Supreme Court, Hughes, C.J., held that a decision by Karen Quinlan to permit a noncognitive, vegetative existence to terminate by natural forces was a valuable incident of her right to ____________ which could be asserted on her behalf by her guardian.
4: Dr. Plum testified that brain death necessarily must mean
5: Until the recent past, the traditional definition of death was
6: Doctors testified that Karen Quinlan did not meet the criteria for brain death as offered by the Ad Hoc Committee of
7: Neurologist Dr. Julius Korein testified for the plaintiff and described a medical practice concept of 'judicious neglect' which means
8: Karen Quinlan's father looked for guidance from his ____________ faith.
9: The position statement of Bishop Lawrence B. Casey ___________ the decision of Joseph Quinlan.
10: Which of the following illustrates constitutional legal issues on the right to privacy?
11: The Court's responsibility to protect those under disability is referred to as
12: In Bradley v Fisher, the Supreme Court held that a _______________, 'in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.'
13: Dr. Karen Teel writes in the Baylor Law Review that the authority of the ethics committee is more that of an

In order to purchase or take this course, you will need to log in. If you do not have an account, you will need to register for a free account.

After you log in, a link will appear here that will allow you to purchase this course.


Free State Social Work, LLC, provider #1235, is approved as an ACE provider to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Regulatory boards are the final authority on courses accepted for continuing education credit. ACE provider approval period: 9/6/2021 - 9/6/2024. Social workers completing this course receive 1 continuing education credit.

Free State Social Work has been approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP NO. 6605. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified. Free State Social Work is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs.

G.M. Rydberg-Cox, MSW, LSCSW is the Continuing Education Director at Free State Social Work and responsible for the development of this course.  She received her Masters of Social Work in 1996 from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois-Chicago and she has over 20 years of experience.  She has lived and worked as a social worker in Chicago, Boston, and Kansas City.  She currently practices in the area of hospital/medical social work.  The reading materials for this course were developed by another organization.