Does a written document such as a living will decide when someone should die or should the verbal wishes of the incapacitated person be followed if known? Such as the controversy over when life begins, we now face the ultimate question of when does life end.
In 1990, Terri Schiavo, a young Florida woman suffered a heart attack caused by bulimia leaving her brain was without oxygen for six minutes. According to medical opinions, she has limited involuntary physical movement. She has remained in a persistent vegetative state ever since.
Terri did not have a living will or medical directive in place at the time of her heart attack.
Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, has repeatedly sought the courts intervention to allow his wife’s feeding tube to be removed and she be allowed to die. On more than one occasion Michael Schiavo testified before judges stating that his wife’s wishes were to never be “hooked up” to a machine to save her life.
He insists that she expressed this to him and others on more than one occasion. He further declares that she would rather die than to live as she is forced to do now.
Others have also testified that this statement is true. In 1993 a court awarded Terri $1 million dollars in a medical malpractice suit, and granted her husband authority over the money to use for her care Goldenberg, 2003. When questioned regarding his motives for wanting Terri to die, he emphatically denies her death would bring him any type of reward or satisfaction Smith, 2004. If Terri dies her husband inherits the funds remaining in the malpractice suit.
At the time of this writing, Terri’s husband lives with another woman and two children he has fathered with her without being divorced from Terri Hennesy, 2004.Conversely, Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler are seeking a court order to keep her alive via a feeding tube. Their wish is to seek rehabilitation therapy for their daughter in hopes she can regain a normal life. The Schindler’s maintain Michael Schiavo is abusive and neglectful of his wife’s medical condition.
Furthermore, they claim he wishes her death so he can inherit her remaining estate. It is their wish to be granted guardianship over her medical care and financial estate Martinez ; Kampert, 2003.Additionally, the Schindlers impassioned pleas to save their daughters life to the residents of Florida resulted in more than 100,000 communications to Governor Jeb Bush requesting he sign legislation making it illegal to remove Terri’s feeding tube. As a result the governor intervened and signed “Terri’s Law” allowing her feeding tube to be reinserted.
As recently as October 2004, Governor Bush stated “I personally don”t want to be a party to removing a feeding tube that causes us to take an innocent life” Bell, 2004.However emphatically the Governor supports this law, the Florida Supreme Court denied his request to reconsider it’s ruling in favor of removing Terri’s feeding tube. The date for removal has not been set. The Value of Life Most of us in the course of a lifetime will be confronted in our own families with difficult choices on matters of life and death.
There are many opinions on when life begins and now it also seems as to when life ends. Does life end when a person takes their last breath, is it when their brain functions cease, or is it when they can no longer swallow such as in Terri Schiavo’s case?Few people act in a purely selfish and brutal matter in particularly when they face ending someone else’s life. It must be considered that most people will face an inner battle of an enormous proportion when making this decision about a family member. Some may say it is the ultimate selfless sacrifice to allow someone the right to die in a humane manner and it is inhumane to allow someone to linger in a vegetative state without hope for recovery.
Although most will not agree on the subject, both sides will concede that all human lives whether physically, emotionally, or mentally challenged are valuable.When children are born we rejoice, when someone we love dies, we mourn. We do not differentiate our depth of joy or sadness based upon the physical quality of the person. Our society demands that we do not discard impaired individuals because they cannot contribute to society as others do or because they have become a burden.
In contrast, we are taught to protect and care for those who cannot sustain themselves. Advance Directives Living wills, health care surrogates, and the durable power of attorney for health care are all examples of legal documents that provide the final written wishes of a person to be executed.These documents by definition places the emotional decision of ending a loved ones life in the hands of the courts. It instructs the family and physicians how to treat or not treat an incapacitated person.
If someone knows they do not wish to have their life sustained by artificial means, these documents are the binding legal contracts needed to fulfill their wishes. It also provides the individual the means to stipulate how they wish to die in certain circumstances or whom they wish to make decisions for them if needed. According to the State of Florida’s Life-Long Procedure act:A living will or declaration states that you do not want to be kept alive by medical treatment when you have a terminal or end-stage illness or are in a persistent vegetative state, and are no longer able to decide matters for yourself. The Living Will spells out your wishes regarding the withholding or withdrawing of life-prolonging measures when there can be no hope of recovery, as certified by two physicians.
Medicines or medical procedures necessary to provide comfort or alleviate pain would continue to be provided Health First, 2004. Advance directives clearly express the desires of the person.There should be no room for error when these documents are presented. Until the 1950’s, most people died at home.
Today, about 85% of Americans die in a health care setting: a hospital, a nursing home or a rehabilitation center. At least 12% die in an intensive care unit MedicineNet. Com, 1996-2004. This startling static shows that more people are dying in regulated facilities than their homes and would require advanced health care planning.
However, most people do not think about their ultimate demise unless confronted with a serious illness or death of a loved one.This is substantiated by the fact that four out of five American adults do not have an advanced medical directive in place. Most people avoid this issue and the results are likened to that of the Terri Schiavo case. Who will speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself? Spoken Wishes When we find ourselves in between the proverbial “rock and a hard place” how do we decide on our actions? Suppose we have a conversation with a spouse much like Michael Schiavo claims he had with his wife Terri and then we are faced with executing those wishes when tragedy happens; how do we convince others this is their wishes and not our own?Verbal agreements, although hard to prove, should be as binding as any other written contract.
However, the contrary is true. Even in everyday business dealings, the written contract will always prevail over a verbal agreement. The same is true for end of life issues unless they can be proven in court. We may feel that the spouse or partner should know their expressed wishes and have the ability to see them to fruition.
If this were true, Terri Schiavo would have long ago been dead.Although many courts ruled in Michael Schiavo’s favor on the basis of verbal communications with his wife, her plight still lingers in the courts because she did not have a written advance directive in relation to her health care. Ultimate Power Apparently in this case, the family members will never agree upon the course of action needed to be taken. This long suffering legal battle has resulted in the estrangement of family members and relentless media turmoil.
This case is more about who is in control than the quality of life of Terri Schiavo. On one end of the spectrum you have her husband who claims he only wants to follow her wishes.On the other end are her parents who want to hold onto their daughter as long as possible. The ethical dilemma of this case is not only about when life ends, but when do we as a society intervene on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.
The opinions abound about how incapacitated persons receive medical care. The convoluted pathways through advance directives can leave anyone feeling helpless when making these decisions. The medical interpretation of “life sustaining treatment” is so clouded that most people do not truly understand what they are asking for.Just as our opinions and tastes change, how do we know when we write our wishes down that circumstances cause us to change our minds? What if it is too late to do so, then what? Although this case has created new laws and interpretations of existing ones, the ultimate challenge still remains.
How and who determines when our life should end? At present, in the State of Florida, your written advanced directives take precedents over any verbal wishes. This statute was meant to protect the rights of the majority of people who wanted control over their last right, the right to die as they wish.How is it that we as a society find it necessary to disregard the sanctity of a peaceful death? It is unfair to disallow someone their final wish. Out of respect for those we love, we should air on the side of compassion and follow their wishes.
The Dalai Lama provides these words of wisdom, “by developing a sense of respect for others and a concern for their welfare, we reduce our own selfishness, which is the source of all problems, and enhance our sense of kindness which is a natural source of goodness. Lama, 1973”. Ultimately, the right to die is in the hands of God.It is not for humans to decide when someone dies.
People are here for a higher purpose and when we try to control that purpose we do them a great disservice. Learning to let go of control allows those we love to die much like when they are born. They take their first breath in the stillness of the moment to find their way into the world. When their last breath leaves them, they find their way back to the place where they began, hopefully in peace and surrounded by those they loved.
Not on the front page of a newspaper as a headline in a court decision.
Cite this Right to Die –Terri Schiavo
Right to Die –Terri Schiavo. (2018, Jun 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/right-to-die-terri-schiavo/