Bioethics Discussion Blog: Looking Back at Terri Schiavo 5 Years Later

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looking Back at Terri Schiavo 5 Years Later

It’s now 5 years since the death of Terri Schiavo and one wonders whether it is of value to remember another “Terri Schiavo Day Anniversary”. Though the political attention to Terri has faded and the legal battle of the case has been resolved , the name and the moral and ethical conflict still lingers on, particularly refueled by the recent publicity regarding the United States bishops and their revision of the Catholic Religious Directive #58 regarding hydration and nutrition and, of course, the health reform law recently passed and signed. I found three articles which give different perspectives as one looks back at the Terri Schiavo story.

Kathi Ruse writing in the Washington Times still feels that the America public were misguided if they really concluded, as indicated by the polls, that Terri should be allowed to die.

Reverend Jason Poling writing in the Baltimore Sun writes about being surprised that the same people who felt that the wishes of the Terri’s parents trumped the decision of the husband regarding Terri’s medical care were the ones who “ordinarily defend the traditional understanding of marriage--- people who in the course of pastoral ministry and teaching emphasize to couples (and their parents) the importance of 'leaving and cleaving,' , who encourage couples to work out their problems rather than running to their parents, who really do believe that the two become one.”

Finally, Matt Sedensky writing for the Associated Press comments that while the Terri Schiavo case brought to attention of the American public the necessity for people to write out their wishes for end of life care in an Advance Disrective, there was little change in the numbers of people filling out these forms (20-30%) comparing before and after her death.

..Maurice.

4 Comments:

At Thursday, May 06, 2010 10:55:00 AM, Blogger JTMcKay said...

Matt Sedensky's report noting that no appreciable change in advance directive completion rates following the Schiavo case is not entirely accurate. While overall completion rates may not have changed dramatically, advance directive document providers noted a significant rush for documents at that time. So, many of the public did respond. Of perhaps greater related concern is that no available advance directive (except one, see: www.LifecareDirectives.com) currently addresses decision-making in the specific condition in which Terri Schiavo survived (i.e., short of coma and PVS, but severely brain damaged). It would seem disingenuous to fault the public for not completing a state-standard advance directive that would never specifically address the condition of the case that was supposed to "motivate" them.
-- JT McKay, PhD

 
At Thursday, May 06, 2010 7:47:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

It was my understanding of Terri's clinical condition that she was comatose and was considered to be in a permanent vegetative state.

The "rush for documents" is meaningless if the documents are not formally utilized. What probably happened is as the Terri Schiavo issue faded in the news, the urgency of thinking out and then activating the document also passes. Hopefully, the raw document is still in someone's top drawer waiting to be filled out while the individual still has the capacity to make their own medical decisions. ..Maurice.

 
At Friday, May 07, 2010 12:06:00 AM, Blogger JTMcKay said...

Clinical reports indicate a diagnosis of "coma" for the first two and a half months after her cerebral anoxic (oxygen deprivation to the brain) event. After that, the working diagnosis was Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). However, a diagnosis of "minimal consciousness" was repeatedly claimed in court. A neurologist, William Hammesfahr, testified that, "She is absolutely responding to her mother.There's no doubt." A neuropsychologist, Dr. Alexander Gimon, testified that she had behaviors "completely inconsistent with a diagnosis of vegetative state." Jay Wolfson, appointed by the court as a guardian ad litem, concluded that she had a "distinct presence" and was responsive to her family. Even Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, testified that he believed she could still feel pain -- though a PVS patient would not.

Thus, as far as the public could discern, a living will addressing "coma" or even "PVS" would have been of little or no benefit. So, again, it seems disingenuous to fault the public by citing "little change in the numbers of people filling out these forms (20-30%) comparing before and after her death," when the overwhelming majority of advance directive forms available to the public (again, all save one, to my knowledge) would have failed to meet the "clear and convincing" evidence standard that the courts were requiring in this case.
-- JT McKay

 
At Monday, May 10, 2010 7:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is a life?

Who has the authority to end it
Who has the right to say
When it should end?

But end one day it must
And on to the unknown
The great mystery

It could be that nobody has the right
To choose
Who lives or dies
Or it could
That everyone does
Or maybe
Everyone who has loved
For what greater wisdom in this world is there
But of love?

 

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