Sunday, April 03, 2005

The unanswered question

I was greatly saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo last week and the suffering and grief of [part of] her family in the matter. In the whole story, there is a big unanswered question I just can't figure out: How is this legal?

Many of the commentary about the case centered on the issue of "What are Terri's wishes?" Suppose for a moment that she had expressly stated in a living will prior to her condition that she wished to be starved and dehidrated to death exactly as has happened. Why whould that make it possible, from a legal standpoint? Suicide is not legal. Homicide requested by the victim is not legal. "She was asking for it" has never been a legal defense I am aware of.

If any of you are in the know about this legal issue, please leave a post addressing the unanswered question.

1 comment:

Sara said...

You ask about Terri Schiavo's death "How is this legal?" The legal question in this situation is not if it is okay to discontinue treatment. That is legal. The legal question was who had the medical power of attorney to make decisions, Terri's husband or her parents. I agree with the court decision that Terri's husband had medical power of attorney because they were married.
The media uses terms like "starved and dehydrated" to imply that Terri was tortured and made to suffer by not continuing to feed through her stomach tube. I disagree with that sensationalism. When people die a "natural death" of chronic causes, they lose their desire to eat or drink. That is part of the dying process. Their bodies are shutting down. It is not painful for them to not eat or drink. It is painful to force them to eat or drink. Death is not something to be avoided at all costs just as it is not to be embraced lightly. God made us all to die and living eternally with Him in heaven is part of His plan for us. Modern medicine has many pluses, but it also has brought the issue of when do you let go of someone and let them die naturally. Hospice programs help people to deal with these difficult decisions because the medical profession is focuses on prolonging life no matter what. Sometimes that is not right. Are we "playing God" by keeping them alive in a vegetative stage? By the same rationale, are we "playing God" by letting them go? There is a difference between assisted suicide and letting someone go.
I feel very personally about this because I had to let my mother go. She was 82 years old, she had MS for 50 years. After many chrises, the doctors discharged her from the hospital on a trach for oxygen and stomach stent to feed her, thinking that she would live only a few weeks. She lived one and a half years more and probably would still be alive today if I had not said to my family, "This is enough. I will personally take her off the machines and sit with her until she passes away, if we don't do something." My sister who had medical power of attorney had great difficulty in letting go and making the decision, but when she did, my mother lived less than 8 hours after being taken off the machines and she died very peacefully. Was it the right decision? Yes. Was it a hard decision? Yes. It was very difficult. I feel sorry for anyone who is ever in this position. No one makes this decision lightly.