The Tragic Story
On April 15, 1975 at 2:00 am, the Quinlans received a phone call from Newton Memorial Hospital telling them that their daughter, Karen Ann, had been brought to the hospital. She was unconscious, and had slipped into a coma. Her state steadily deteriorated and very soon her coma was diagnosed to be irreversible. She was shortly thereafter transferred to St. Clare’s in Denville. Her condition was deemed a “persistent vegetative” state from which she would not recover. Unlike the “sleeping beauty” depicted in newspaper articles and sketches drawn by artists who had never got a glimpse of Karen, she was not resting quietly. As time went on, her body began to take on distinctive patterns. Karen would thrash wildly at times, she would blindly resist treatments and the machines she was attached to, yet all the while unable to communicate and respond to voices of her loved ones. After making the painstaking decision to have Karen removed from life support, the Quinlans then discovered that in order to carry out this personal wish, they needed to petition the court. A very private family soon found themselves at the center of a public court case which drew national attention. Julia and Joe Quinlan lost their initial court petition in Superior Court, but they persisted, and brought their case before the New Jersey Supreme Court. On March 31, 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision appointing Joe Quinlan as the personal guardian of their daughter Karen with the right to determine her medical treatment, including the right to discontinue all extraordinary means of life support. Working as a secretary for the rectory at her parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Mount Arlington, Julia spent hours talking and crying with the church’s pastor, Rev. Tom Trapasso. She recalled going out on the porch with Trapasso and pouring out her broken heart. “He was wonderful. I don’t know what I would have done without him. He was (and is) a wonderful...
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