Wednesday, March 23, 2005

How do be sure you don’t end up like Terri Schiavo

VICTORIA - I’ve never met Terri Schiavo, her husband or parents. She’s 41 now, and has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 15 years. in a Florida hospital bed.
Through most of that time the woman with a tube in her stomach has been at the centre of a legal tug of war. Should she be left to die, or kept alive? Who knows her best, loves her more? What would she want?
Schiavo’s husband says she always told him that she didn’t want to be kept alive artificially under these kind of circumstances. He’s asked the courts to approve ending life support.
Her parents want Schiavo kept alive, arguing that is what she would want.
It’s a terrible situation. But the courts, in 2000, and 2003 and again sveral times this year, heard from everyone involved and decided the feeding tube should be removed. That is what Schaivo would have wanted, given her condition. Barring a miracle, that would mean she would die within two weeks.
I pray I never have to face that kind of decision.
But I also pray that others will have the courage and love to honour my own views about when life has so little meaning that it is no longer worth preserving through heroic medical efforts. When it is time.
Schiavo is not being granted that kind of respect.
As the courts and family wrestled with this difficult decision, the U.S. politicians rushed into action. They knew little about Terri Schiavo, or what she wanted from her life and death. But they were undeterred by their ignorance.
The U.S. Congress rushed to Washington for a weekend session. President George Bush cut short a Texas vacation to sign a bill ordering another legal review of the court’s decision. Everyone involved made their case on CNN, and the extremists grabbed their media moments. Schiavo as an individual was forgotten; she mattered only as a symbol.
It couldn’t happen here, ethics experts maintained.
But it could. Look at Evelyn Martens, who was arrested, tried - and acquitted - for aiding a suicide. The issues are much the same.
Or listen to the public discussions about the Schiavo case. A nice-sounding woman called into the CBC, to offer her view - based on nothing - that Schiavo would have wanted to be kept alive.
She went on. Even if Schiavo had specified in advance that she did not want to be kept alive, her wishes should be ignored, the caller said.
Some people believe suffering is part of God’s plan, and should be embraced. Some want every medical measure taken to prolong life. Others have decided where they want to draw the line; where pain or emptiness or loss of meaning outweigh the drive to remain alive.
I’d never presume to make this decision for anyone else. But many people would, here as well as in the U.S.
You have an option. Decisions continuing life support, or undertaking desperate medical interventions, are complex. If the patient is uable to make the decisions - like Schiavo - B.C. doctors are required to turn to family members. But as the Schiavo case shows, that does not always provide clear answers. (And it also places family members in a difficult position.)
You can help help. B.C.'s Representation Agreement Act allows you to make a legally enforceable living will, setting out what kinds of treatment and life support you want, given different medical circumstances. You can also specify who should make the decisions on your behalf - a family member, or perhaps a friend if you wish to spare family the pain. (The Representation Agreement Resource Centre - - is a good information starting point. In some cases you may also need a lawyer’s help.)
We’re not keen on contemplating our own deaths. But Schiavo’s plight - and the pain for all involved - shows that it’s important to decide on the way we choose to die, just as we choose the way we live.
Footnote: There’s something quite obscene about the rush by U.S. politicians to capitalize on this case. Thousands die and suffer needlessly every day without attracting their notice. The death of one woman who offers political advantage matters a great deal more, apparently.

1 comment:

Erik Abbink said...

Hello Paul, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Sad to see how politicians try to gain politically over the heads of the Schiavo family; isn't it nothing more than a family dispute?

American top politicians are so shallow.....

Keep up the good work,

Erik Abbink