Terry Schiavo and Her
Author: Samuel Metz
Lest we forget, there are two
and only two issues in the case of Terri Schiavo: Is she
in a persistent vegetative state and what are her wishes?
The first issue is resolved:
All physicians examining her at the request of her husband
and courts conclude her state is vegetative, as have all
her attending physicians for 15 years. Two physicians
requested by her parents disagreed, one of them
uncomfortable with "persistent," suggesting experimental
or yet-to-be discovered therapies might be curative. This
logic renders a diagnosis of "persistent" impossible - the
dead are not "dead," just "temporarily devoid of life
until we find a cure for what killed them."
Many distant physicians,
undeterred by this unanimity, venture their own
unsolicited diagnoses. Some were in Congress, a condition
that clearly does not improve medical acumen. One medical
adage says when physicians disagree, the one at the
bedside has the high ground. Yet Dr. Frist, Senator from
Tennessee, made his diagnosis from a few minutes of
four-year-old videotape. Dr. Coburn, Senator from
Oklahoma, made his simply by watching TV. It is more than
bad medicine to make life-and-death decisions from a
distance; it qualifies as negligence.
Dr. Cheshire, a neurologist
who ventured his opinion at the request of the "State of
Florida" neither examined her nor conducted tests.
Nonetheless he concluded all previous physicians caring
for her were wrong in diagnosing her as vegetative. That a
physician unknown to family, courts, or attending
physicians would offer an uninvited opinion contradicting
all prior medical judgments shows considerable chutzpah.
That Dr. Cheshire is a director in an ethics center with a
Christian agenda does little to enhance his impartiality.
Dr. Cheshireís opinion also
demonstrates that if enough monkeys sit at enough
typewriters, one will eventually type out the diagnosis
What would Ms. Schiavo want
done? Another pretty good adage is that if you want to
know what the patient wants, ask the patient. Do not ask
their clergy, or the leader of their espoused religion, or
their parents or husband or employer or neighbors or pets.
If the patient is unable to speak, read the patientís
written instructions. In their absence, ask the designated
power of attorney. If none, ask the legal guardian; in
this case, the spouse.
Others may object to the
guardianís decisions if they feel they contradict the
known wishes of the patient. Courts hear the evidence and
determine the worth of the objections. It is absolutely
inappropriate to introduce other wishes regarding care of
the patient; all that matters is the patientís wish. The
Schindlers, parents of Ms. Schiavo, do not dispute Mr.
Schiavoís claim that his wife would refuse care to
maintain a persistent vegetative state. While many
speculate on what other members of the patientís family or
religion or political party or sorority might want, this
is irrelevant. What would the patient want?
Many players in this drama
claim they object to the process; in fact they object to
the result. Every court and judge acted in strict accord
with our laws, no thanks to the unprecedented interference
by legislative and executive agents at both state and
federal levels. The result may be distasteful to those
with their own private personal, religious, or political
beliefs. The process, nonetheless, has been within bounds
of common decency, respect for individual patient wishes,
and judicial protocol.
Our hearts go out to her
family who must accept both her incurable status and her
wishes not to be kept alive in this state. However, Ms.
Schiavo is now free to have her end-of-life wishes
respected. Regardless of whether others may have chosen
differently, we have to live with it.