Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2003 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
Avoiding the Schiavo Scenario: Readers Speak Out With Life-and-Death Comments
Today it is our turn to thank YOU, the readers, for the scintillating
thoughts and comments in response to last week's column, "Death by
We were somewhat overwhelmed by our e-mail - and even more stunned that
almost 100 percent of you basically agreed with our comments. We were
prepared for some less-than-kind responses.
Many readers thought we were too kind to Terri's husband. They opined that
her husband's actions reflected a desire to keep the malpractice settlement
money for himself. We had decided not to comment on this so as to keep focus
on the main issue: Terri is alive - and has the right to live even though
she is unable to speak for herself.
Whether or not her husband is good or evil is an important but different
moral and legal issue. At the same time, his actions betray little respect
for Terri or her rights; therefore, he should not be her guardian.
Several readers related their own experiences to Terri's situation. For
example, Betty G. wrote about her own husband, who "is happy to be alive and
he knows I was by his side along the way. He thanks God every day. He was so
drugged on medication that he could not talk. One year to the day" after
being released from therapy he "piloted an airplane."
Dr. Joan E. wrote: "We have a daughter with DS [Down Syndrome] and know of
many loving parents who have to use a feeding tube for their child due to
heart defects or other oral motor issues. How many babies with DS will be
denied feeding tubes by some relative who thinks it best to get the court to
act and go down that path?"
Kirsteen W. wrote, "This young woman has every right to stay alive and die
when it is her time to die not one minute sooner."
C. B. wrote: "Because a person can't speak, move a muscle, a limb, ... it
doesn't mean they aren't there. ... Thanks again for speaking out [for] one
We also received some helpful suggestions for avoiding the Schiavo Scenario
in your own family's lives.
In the absence of a living will, we would "err on the side of life - it's
just the civilized thing to do," to quote reader Frank G. Zavisca, M.D.,
Ph.D., Director, Obstetric Anesthesiology, at LSUHSC, Shreveport, La. Dr.
Zavisca also writes that he is all for a living will. We are too.
If you don't write your own will, your state almost certainly has written
one for you to provide an orderly process for deciding these life-and-death
issues. Putting down your own desires, in writing, in your own will and
other directives largely pre-empts these "one size fits all" laws.
Reader Dan E. of Costa Mesa, Calif., sent these suggestions to avoid the
- Establish an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) for yourself, and
insist on it for all members of your family who might confront you with that
- Carefully specify in the AHCD exactly what you want done - and not
done - when you are unable to express yourself adequately, such as when you
appear to be at death's door, or when your chances of being restored to a
functioning state are small (e.g., after a massive stroke).
- Be sure your designated Agent for Health Care fully understands your
- Then, be sure, if you or any of your family members must go to a
hospital, for even the most trivial treatment, that you/they always take a
copy of the AHCD with you and show it to the hospital admissions or ER
A good attorney can help you and your family enhance rather than restrict
your own rights and freedoms.
Beyond the Schiavo case lies a volatile issue that is rarely addressed
directly as a single issue: What should be the role of the civil state in
determining, as a matter of law and legal procedure, who lives and who dies?
We're talking "across the board," from capital punishment (the taking of the
life of the heinously guilty and irredeemably evil) to abortion (the taking
of the life of the absolutely innocent). America's laws on both are a
pastiche of ugly contradictions.
Then there's the whole issue of "When is life not worth living?" - usually
expressed in end-of-life scenarios, but increasingly, a la Peter Singer, in
terms of killing infants because they "aren't fully human."
And let's not kid ourselves. As the population ages, and if medical care for
the elderly consumes ever more tax dollars, the pressure to terminate or
withdraw medical treatment from the inconvenient innocents will only
increase, as is already happening in the Netherlands and Great Britain.
[See: Fitness, Fatness, Freedom - Who Decides?]
If the essence of limited government is limits ... where should those limits
be? And why?
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments
on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute
Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians
and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
Comment by clicking here.
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