Elizabeth Bouvia

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Elizabeth Bouvia
Known forMedical ethics activism

Elizabeth Bouvia (born c. 1958) is a figure in the right-to-die movement. Her case attracted nationwide attention in this area as well as in medical ethics.


On September 3, 1983, Bouvia, at the age of 26, admitted herself into the psychiatric ward of Riverside General Hospital in Riverside, California. She was almost totally paralysed by cerebral palsy and had severe degenerative arthritis, which caused her great pain.[1]

Bouvia was alienated from her family and husband, and had been entertaining thoughts of suicide. She requested hospital authorities to allow her to starve to death. When they refused and ordered her to be force-fed, Bouvia contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which assigned her a lawyer. In the subsequent lawsuit, the court upheld the hospital's decision and ordered force-feeding to continue (Pence 64-65).


Following the court case, a bitter dispute broke out among physicians regarding the Bouvia case. Bouvia tried to resist the force-feeding by biting through the feeding tube. Four attendants would then hold her down while the tubing was inserted into her nose and liquids pumped into her stomach.

Some physicians called this battery and torture, while others claimed that the hospital was right to err on the side of continued life (Pence 65).

Bouvia appealed the lower court ruling and lost. Now, in addition to the force-feeding, she was hooked up to a morphine drip to ease the pain of her arthritis. Eventually, she appealed again and this time the court ruled in her favour that the force-feeding constituted battery (Pence 68).[2]


After the court case, Bouvia decided that she would live. In 1998, she appeared on 60 Minutes, saying that she was still in pain and had felt great pressure to continue living; she expressed the hope that she would soon die of natural causes. She was still living in 2002.[1] In its obituary for USC professor Harlan Hahn, the Los Angeles Times on May 11, 2008, reported that Bouvia was still alive.


  • Miller, Franklin and Diane Myer. "Voluntary Death: A Comparison of Terminal Dehydration and Physician Assisted Suicide" Thomas Mappes and Jane Zembaty Eds. Social Ethics (6th Ed). Boston: McGraw Hill, 2002. 99-104.
  • Gregory Pence. Classic Cases in Medical ethics|Medical Ethics (3rd Ed). Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000.
  1. ^ Jonsen, Albert R., Ph.D. "Involuntary Treatment in Medicine", Annual Review of Medicine, Volume 37, page 41, February, 1986.
  2. ^ The case can be found at: 179 Cal.App.3d 1127, 225 Cal.Rptr. 297 (1986).