March 21, 2005

It's not about Terri Schiavo

Most of us, fortunately, have never been in exactly the same position as Terri Schiavo's family. But I suspect almost all of us have had to make or help make some end of life decisions on behalf of loved ones. When that time came, who did we turn to for help? Family. Friends. Doctors. Clergy. What about politicians? What? Nobody called Tom DeLay or George Bush to see what they thought?

This -- despite how the GOP is framing the issue -- is the essence of the current debate.

And though Congress is going out of its way to say that the actions it is taking now apply only to one person, that is intellectually, and perhaps legally, incoherent. By definition, a Constitutional right can not apply to a single individual. It is something we all have -- and if the politicians are intent on defining a new one, it's crucial that we think about what this actually means.

For instance, it's now irrelevent that Schiavo's family is battling over her treatment. If a person truly has the Constitutional right to forced nutrition and hydration, the wishes of the family must be beside the point. Indeed, family members -- who have all sorts of emotional and financial conflict of interests -- are the last people who (in the implied view of the GOP and/or the voters they're pandering to) can be trusted to make a decision about ending someone's life. Tom DeLay called the removal of the feeding tube murder. If that's so (and the law doesn't actually go that far, but just wait...) then no one ever has the right to remove a feeding tube, even if everyone in the family and all their doctors agree it's for the best.

Even more, the new law makes exceptions for people with living wills -- but why? If I sign a piece of paper saying I want to die tomorrow, that doesn't give you the right to shoot me in the head. Either there is a real distinction between the kind of "life" Terri Schiavo is living or the kind of life I am living, or there's not. The federal government and the religious right have now said there's not, which means that you and I no longer have the right to make any decisions about what should happen to us or our families if the worst should happen.

Oh, but I'm worrying prematurely. After all, this law only applies to Terry Schiavo... right?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Very succinct. Thank you. Lawmakers saying that this is 'nonprecedential' is bunk. The passage of this law is not nonprecedential, it's unpresidential.

Even more, the new law makes exceptions for people with living wills -- but why?

One wonders how that will play out in states, such as New York, where a living will has no legal power.

That's right. You can sign any number of advanced directives in the State of New York, but the only ones that have any power are the assignment of a health care proxy or signing a DNR while you are in the hospital.

I once had a patient who had a living will saying she did not want any breathing tubes, any feeding tubes, or any extreme measures. When I examined her, she was trached (breathing tube), PEGged (feeding tube), and was full code status, and it was all entirely legal, as her proxy did not act according to, and was not legally bound by, that living will.

I am really confused! Why has this woman been in this state this long and only now is the husband making this decision? Why does he not just divorce her and let her biological family deal with it? They are surely keeping the hosp. (or is she home, I don't know)in $$. If my children (Daniel, listen up) were to allow me to exist this way for even 6 mos., when I did die I would come back and haunt them until the day They died! As far as bringing the government into this...... Lets not go there! This is SOOOOO wrong! and yes, it IS setting a precident! One that I'd rather not think about. The feeding tube should never have been put in in the first place.

John Conyers made a strong statement about the vote:


Our local talk show host this morning was talking about her 14th amendment right to due process. His basic point is that it's being violated. This case has been in through a significant number of state courts. I'd have to say that, base on the amount of litigation already undertaken, that the 14th amendment issues have been fairly dealt with.

As far as congressional intervention is concerned, this is a slippery slope that I don't want to go down.

Lue -- I admit I haven't been following the gossipy elements of this case closely, but I think there are two answers. The cynical one is that there is some malpractice money at stake and the husband wants his cut. The altruistic one is that the husband firmly believes that his wife does not want to remain alive in this state, and thinks it would be cruel to abandon her to her parents.

And don't worry. I'm pulling the plug if you so much as sleep in one day. :)

This is a backdoor for the GOP's radical egalitarian agenda. If it is murder to remove a feeding tube soon it will be murder to allow people to starve on the streets of our cities. Next thing you know we'll be providing them with housing, clothing, education, jobs, and dignity. The Communistic tendencies of the Bush Administration have been evident for some time. This is the small end of the wedge, people. On the other side is the worker's paradise.

Wait, no, on second though this is incoherent hypocrisy and criminal malfeasance. The incomprehensible cynicism of the GOP is being played out across the human corpus. This vegetable, our future...

Things are not going well for us, are they?

Does anyone else agree that the congressional subpoena was an attempt at an "end run" around the courts? They requested Terri's presence at a congressional conference on "right-to-life" viewpoints. Not that I'm in favor of pulling the feeding tube, but her own family acknowledges that she has the mental capacity of a 6 to 11 month old baby. Would Congress invite a 6 to 11 month old baby? They're just trying to override the courts by coming through the back door, in my opinion.

If I remember correctly, didn't the husband already collect on a malpractice suit soon after the original attack?

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