Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tonga

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Why every adult (and mature minor) needs a living will/advance directive

Miami Herald online story: Judge extends stay keeping brain-damaged Terri Schiavo alive two more days.

MITCH STACY Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A judge Wednesday extended a stay keeping brain-damaged Terri Schiavo's feeding tube in place, saying he needed time to decide whether her husband, who wants to let her die, is fit to be her guardian.

Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer extended until Friday an emergency stay that was to expire Wednesday afternoon. He said he also needs more time to determine whether Terri Schiavo needs more medical tests to determine if she has greater mental capabilities than previously thought.

Terri Schiavo's parents have been in a long, bitter struggle with her husband, Michael Schiavo, to keep her alive. She collapsed 15 years ago Friday, when a chemical imbalance possibly triggered by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating and cut off oxygen to her brain.

Terri Schiavo has been bio-supported for 15 years. I refuse to say that she has been on life support because she retains only the most limited of biological functions. Her nutrition and hydration are currently under artificial support. Although she can breathe independently, she experienced such massive brain damage after her heart stopped that she cannot otherwise function in a meaningful way. She has no hope of recovery under current medical knowledge, nor is there a real likelihood of any new or emerging procedures that might offer her relief.

Not even, ironically enough, from stem cell research.

Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson interrupted his busy schedule (attacking cartoon characters again) to let the world know that he was still dissatisfied.

"The same judge who may eventually sign Terri Schiavo's death warrant today issued a temporary reprieve allowing her feeding tube to stay in place for at least two more days. This decision is not overly comforting, however, as Florida Circuit Judge George Greer has consistently proven himself to be no friend of Terri Schiavo, her family or of human life when you consider his history of rulings in this case. Thankfully, he has today seen fit to give her more time to live and her parents more time to defend her right to life.

"The courts, including Judge Greer's, have no moral authority to cause a vulnerable, disabled person like Mrs. Schiavo to die due to dehydration - which will be the result if her feeding tube is removed. Today a crisis has been averted, but only for 48 hours. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is to be applauded for his promise to defend Mrs. Schiavo's life. We pray that he, and those who stand with him, will be successful."
Poor Terry Schiavo cannot die in peace in Florida because her parents get pumped up with false hopes by persons and organizations driven by belief and ideology. Scant evidence exists to lead me to think that the "right-to-life" factions are actually driven by compassion for Terry.

Beating more irony into the tragedy, yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear the Bush administration's challenge to Oregon's Death With Dignity Act. The issue in the SCOTUS case, Gonzales v. Oregon (neé Oregon v. Ashcroft), No. 04-623, is whether doctors who prescribe drugs for committing suicide violate the federal law and are subject to revocation of their federal prescription license.

Oregon's statute still would not address Terry's case, because patients in Oregon must still be able to self-administer the medication, but at least it is a step away from the idea that suicide-- assisted or otherwise-- is invariably evil, or that biological functioning must always be extended to its outermost limit.

Of course, Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Department of Children & Families are both trying to intervene on behalf of Terry Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and against her husband. WKMG -TV reported that the Governor was exploring options to block the removal of the tube:

Bush's actions are being closely watched because in October 2003, he pushed through a law allowing him to intervene six days after Terri Schiavo's feeding tube had been removed. That law was struck down as unconstitutional.
"I can assure you, I will do whatever I can within the means, within the laws, of our state to protect this woman's life," Bush said Wednesday. "I won't go beyond that."

In the meantime, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley introduced HB 701--drafted precisely to cover Terri’s circumstances-- into the Florida legislature on 4 February 2005. The proposed law would amend existing state law by

declaring that an incompetent person is presumed to have directed health care providers to provide the necessary nutrition and hydration to sustain life; prohibiting a court, proxy, or surrogate from withholding or withdrawing nutrition or hydration except under specified circumstances; providing that the presumption to provide nutrition and hydration is inapplicable under certain circumstances

The bill further declares that the act "supersedes existing court orders otherwise applicable on or after the effective date of the act."

Terry Schiavo, Michael Schiavo, and Robert and Mary Schindler are all caught in a tragedy that will end with Terry's death. I cannot believe that anyone benefits by drawing this out longer.