Hugh Finn, a severely brain-damaged man who became the focus of a high-profile debate over the right to die, died today, eight days after the feeding tube that sustained him for 3 1/2 years was removed. He was 44.
Finn died at 10:10 a.m. at the Annaburg Manor Nursing Home in Virginia, said nursing home spokeswoman Lisa Grepps. She declined to release more information.
Finn, a former Louisville, Kentucky, television news anchor, had been unable to eat, communicate, or care for himself since a March 1995 car crash ruptured his aorta, depriving his brain of oxygen.
He was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery. In June, Finn's wife and guardian, Michele Finn, told his family she was going to remove the feeding tube that kept him alive. Under Virginia law, food and water may be withheld from people who are in a persistent vegetative state.
Finn's reporting on a similar case in Kentucky prompted him to tell his wife and a friend that he would never wish to live in such a condition.
Mrs. Finn's decision caused a split in the family and sent Finn's brother, John Finn, to court to stop her.
Prince William County Circuit Judge Frank Hoss Jr. ruled Aug. 31 that Mrs. Finn would remain as her husband's guardian and had the right to remove the tube. Hoss gave John Finn until Sept. 30 to appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.
After news reports of the family's fight, the Department of Health and Human Resources sent a nurse employed by the state to examine Finn. The nurse said that during a visit to Finn's room in the Annaburg Manor Nursing Home in Manassas, he said one word: "Hi."
On Sept 28, the Finn family announced that it had dropped its opposition to Michele Finn's plan to remove the feeding tube. John Finn decided not to appeal.
That didn't stop the state, however. On the basis of the nurse's report, Gov. Jim Gilmore filed an appeal minutes before the deadline expired challenging Finn's diagnosis and contending that withholding food and water from him would amount to euthanasia, which is illegal in Virginia.
After an emergency midnight hearing, Hoss flatly rejected the state's arguments, and the family removed the feeding tube a few hours later at the nursing home where Finn had been since February 1996.
Michele Finn angrily denounced Gilmore after the hearing for meddling in the family's mournful ordeal, but Gilmore announced at an Oct. 1 news conference that he would ask the Virginia Supreme Court to order Finn's feeding tube to be reinserted.
The state filed its appeal on Oct. 2, and three hours later the justices refused Gilmore's request, upholding Hoss' finding that withholding food did not amount to mercy killing. Gilmore said the state would not appeal the matter further.
Finn was born May 20, 1954 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the third of eight brothers and sisters. His father ran a music store and Finn, an Eagle scot, played the piano.
He started his broadcast career at radio stations near his home and broke into television as a weatherman at WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre. He met Michele Glazier at a state Junior Achievement convention, and they married in 1981.
Finn worked at WAVE-TV in Louisville from that year until 1994, when he was forced out in a shakeup, Mrs. Finn said. At the time, he was hosting a morning show and was noon news anchor.
Before the accident put him in a persistent vegetative state, he started an Internet sports news service.
Finn was transferred to Annaburg after several months of attempted rehabilitation to be near his parents and several siblings.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters Bridget, 8, and Keeley, 12, who live in Louisville. He is also survived by his parents, Thomas and Joan Finn; brothers Tom, Brian, Edward, Joseph and John; and sisters Karen Finn and Eileen Colarusso.
Written by Dale Hopper
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed