Americana: Protecting Miss Mary

This year's winter struck hard at Mary Northern, 72, who lived alone in a rundown, unheated house in Nashville. Alerted by neighbors, police took her against her will to a hospital. Miss Mary, as she is known, was found to have gangrene in both her frostbitten feet. Surgeons recommended amputation. Miss Mary refused.

Tennessee welfare workers petitioned for the operation over her protest. Her court-appointed lawyer resisted. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, believing Miss Mary to be near death, the courts gave permission for the surgery. It was not needed. Miss Mary had developed pneumonia, and the antibiotics...

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