Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TRUE NORTH by Sonja Eddings Brown

One Woman's View of The Terri Schiavo Case

The lesson
to be learned from Terri Schiavo's life dilemma is that every American, probably at the age of 18, should be required to prepare a durable power of attorney for healthcare in the event a life or death decision becomes necessary and they cannot decide for themselves. The durable power of attorney should include the signer’s wishes about such decisions. People could be allowed to update the document with every renewal of their driver's licenses. Whether optional or mandatory, this opportunity would serve families, caregivers, and the individual well.

Just as 18-year olds are invited into adulthood by being given the right to vote, the responsibility to register with the selective service, the opportunity to designate themselves as organ donors, and a variety of other privileges under the law, 18-year olds should also be allowed to state their personal wishes in the event they are incapacitated.

There is so much passion encircling the issues of the Terry Schiavo case that my own husband and I find it hard to agree on some aspects of the matter. Women, however, are often not as divided on the issue of Terri Schiavo's destiny. In recent days I conducted my own informal poll on the subject by tapping the opinions of women I pass daily in my work as a media consultant, on Los Angeles school yards, at the grocery store, the car wash, church gatherings, and dental offices. These are the corridors where, I find, the real pulse of the country can be taken. Not surprisingly, women think alike. The heartfelt reactions to Terri Schiavo's predicament were mostly uncomplicated and similar to my own . Each woman, whether a mother, an intensive care nurse, a lawyer, a clerk, or a grandmother, placed a very high value on life. Even so, not one desired to be kept alive, with all quality of life stripped away, with loved ones left burdened with responsibility, uncertainty, and paralyzing legal handcuffs. Not one woman felt that Terry Schiavo would choose this destiny for herself either.

In this particular instance, I believe that whether you live in Greenville, Ohio or in a metropolis like Los Angeles, a family crisis like this is viewed much the same. The Schiavo tragedy should have been resolved as a private and sacred family matter, not determined by courts, and not congress, and certainly not by the checkbooks of special interest groups.

Terri Schiavo would have been able to decide her own destiny, and could have rescued her own family from this desperate dispute, had the law required her at 18 to determine power of attorney and clearly state her preferences. Some observers sympathize with her devoted and relentless parents; others agonize with her obviously frustrated and worn out husband, all of whom have endured almost 15 years of scrutiny in this case. Their suffering should be a lesson to us all. With the extraordinary intervention tools available to medical professionals today, society must demand that medical professionals use them thoughtfully and with measured responsibility, not out of habit. The rights and the wishes of individuals can be legally considered and respected without ignoring the sacred value of human life in the process.

Terri Schiavo makes headlines today because her life-sustaining food tube has been withdrawn. Where were the television cameras when her doctors truly determined her fate by connecting her to a ventilator-- and then removing her from it? This case is making news today because at the crucial points in her survival, the wishes of her legally-responsible husband were challenged by conflicted parents and there was no sure humane, ethical, established pathway for her family to follow. The Orange County Register reported this past weekend that there are some 35,000 families today facing similar tragic decisions in hospitals and hospices all around the country.

Hospitals and physicians in America today are trained to act instantly and aggressively to save a life. The problem with that philosophy is that doctors and hospitals sometimes behave as if they are powerless when families are faced with the consequences of such acute intervention, and patients are permanently tethered to machinery . . . for life.

Several dozen judges have now reviewed the Schiavo case and have ruled in favor of the rights of her husband as principal guardian. Whether we side with her husband or not, we must not fail to recognize his rights and more importantly his responsibilities under the law. In the future, the government should act to spare families, friends, medical professionals and other caregivers from vague customary practices and place the responsibility for life or death decisions on the individual and his or her trusted representative. The destinies of our loved ones should be decided by each of us and by our families, not by doctors, hospitals, lawyers and judges, who have survival instincts of their own.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home