But this morning's reports pushed me over the edge. The last I heard, at about 1:00 p.m. Eastern time (just as I am typing this post) Terry's feeding tube was to be removed.
This is a moral outrage, as many more qualified than I have commented. I am not sure, however, just how well-understood it is that the Schiavo case may well be a medico-legal-ethical outrage as well.
Take it from me: In close cases involving life-or-death decisions for patients whose ability to decide for themselves is compromised, health providers err on the side of life, unless the wishes of the patient are clear or the patient has legally authorized another person to make decisions on his or her behalf.
I'll say it again: In close cases involving life-or-death decisions for people whose ability to decide for themselves is compromised, health providers err on the side of life. That's the custom and practice in the industry. It is simply what is done. Seemingly only lefty bioethicists in think tanks or living in morally challenged Scandinavian countries think otherwise.
In Terry Schiavo's case, it is not even a close call. No one claims she is brain-dead or even close to it; she may be in a persistent vegetative state ("PVS"), but there's substantial debate about that and very little medical information to go on now. There has been no MRI of her brain and no PET scan. Even assuming she is in PVS, the biggest debate seems to be whether there is clear and convincing evidence that she would wish to have her life end under her present circumstances. I don't know the court file in the case, but all I've heard about in news reports is something about a comment she made once while watching television. The only witness to that comment was her "husband" in name only, whose reliability is being questioned. Terri has appointed no one as her surrogate decision maker.
In other words, there are many more questions than answers about this case. In 20 years of advising hospitals about such matters, I have never seen a case with so many open issues get to the point where artificial hydration and nutrition are about to be withdrawn.
I'd love to write more but alas, I can't today. I hope this story has an ending that helps us all learn to handle such cases better.
The Schiavo family's website is linked here. Please visit. Maybe you will be able to help, or at least learn something.