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Law Library News

Law Library News Archive

Jan. 9, 2006.
Kristy Moon, editor.

Three C’s for Internet Research

Have you ever used Wikipedia? It’s a no-fee encyclopedia that’s available on the Web and its entries often turn up in Google search results. Did you know that those entries are created by the users and that anyone can edit and change the entries at any time?

Recently, inaccuracies were discovered with some of the entries and a brouhaha ensued. For example, John Siegenthaler, a prominent journalist, complained that his entry was modified to implicate him in both Kennedy assassinations.

Wikipedia is instituting changes, including adding a new “stable” version of the encyclopedia where the entries will have been reviewed, but the controversy raises a good point about using Internet sources for research. Before you rely on them, ask yourself what I call the “Three C’s.”

  • Correct?
    • Is the information correct? Accurate? Objective? How can you tell? Consider the author, source, or overall reputation of the Web site.
  • Comprehensive?
    • Is the information comprehensive? Complete? Are there gaps or anything missing in the information?
  • Current?
    • Is the information up-to-date? When was it last updated?

By asking the Three C’s, you can better assess the overall reliability of any source that you find on the Web.

Book of the Week: Long Goodbye

by Jocelyn Kennedy, Reference Intern

William H. Colby, Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2002) (KF228. C78 C65 2002 at Classified Stacks).

Nancy Cruzan stopped breathing on December 25, 1990. According to her family, she died in January 1983 when she entered a persistent vegetative state and her brain function all but disappeared. Long Goodbye is the story of the Cruzan family’s fight to terminate medical life support. You may be familiar with Cruzan v. Director of Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990), the Supreme Court decision that made “Cruzan” a household name as the first “right to die” case decided by the Court, either from a health law or constitutional law class, or perhaps from the recent news connected with the Schiavo case. Schiavo ex rel. Schindler v. Schiavo, 403 F. 3d 1289 (11th Cir. 2005).

Written by the family’s attorney, Long Goodbye chronicles the Cruzan family’s seven years of anguish beginning with a single car accident in early January 1983. Although primarily focused on the three-year suit to remove Nancy’s feeding tube, it is more than just a story of the lawsuit; it guides the reader through the preparation and presentation of the case at trial, state court appeals, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Long Goodbye is the story of one family grappling with an incredibly difficult decision and it invites the reader into the tragedy of the Cruzan family, sharing the stark reality that was their life during Nancy’s illness and beyond. Everything about the Cruzan case is a tragedy in its truest sense, from beginning to end.

Long Goodbye is also the story of a young corporate attorney, Bill Colby, who took a pro bono case to gain trial experience and ended up arguing the first “right to die” case before the Supreme Court. This is the kind of experience law students dream about. Upon realizing the constitutional issues that emerged from the Cruzan family’s request to remove Nancy’s feeding tube, Colby says, “I felt like a real lawyer. This was the kind of night that people wrote about in their law school applications in the ‘Why do you want to be a lawyer?’ section.”

The practice of law is very much about the clients you serve. Long Goodbye demonstrates the impact an attorney can have on his client’s life, and also shows the way a client can change an attorney’s life. Bill Colby made partner at his law firm during the Cruzan case. Then after the death of Nancy Cruzan, Bill Colby became a national speaker on the “right to die” issue, served on the faculty at the University of Kansas School of Law, and most recently was a fellow at the Midwest Bioethics Center.

Long Goodbye is a must read, especially if you intend to practice health law. It is a must read not because what it adds to your scholarly knowledge but because of the humanity it brings to a difficult and perilous legal question: When should society “allow” someone to terminate life? Many ask the questions “how can they let her die” or “how can they let her live” and Long Goodbye shows us, with heartbreaking clarity, the answer. Long Goodbye also shows the perspective that you won’t find in a text book or the Supreme Court decision – the stake the litigants have in the outcome, the effort exerted by the attorneys, and the emotional toll difficult legal issues can have on all those involved.