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Jewish World Review March 21, 2005 / 10 Adar II, 5765

Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

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Consumer Reports

What about Terri's right to live? | Q: I'm confused. How in the world can the U.S. Supreme Court agree to review the assisted-suicide law in Oregon and, at the same time, stand by and allow Terri Schiavo to probably die as a judge again orders her feeding tube removed? This seems very inconsistent and troubling to me.

A: You're not alone in your confusion, and while the situations are quite different, they may be irreconcilable.

In addition to these recent cases, "Million Dollar Baby," the Oscar-winning movie, has brought the practice of assisted suicide to the forefront. The issue of cognitively intact individuals seeking to end their lives rather than continue to live in pain or in a physically incapacitated state is a tremendously weighted among the elderly, with dozens of organizations in support or opposed to this type of euthanasia.

Although a 1997 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to enact assisted-suicide laws, the legality of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act is being challenged by the Bush administration.

According to some polls, the majority of Americans favor strictly supervised physician-assisted suicide under certain circumstances. Assisted-suicide bills are pending before the Vermont and California legislatures, and other states will surely follow suit despite opposing views, including those with ethical and religious objections.

As for Terri, she's needed a feeding tube for nutrition and hydration to stay alive for the last 15 years. Because she didn't have a written health-care directive, Terri's being allowed to die is based on an uncorroborated oral statement she allegedly made to her husband's sister that she would not want to be kept alive under similar circumstances.

Even though this uncorroborated statement is inconsistent with the prior sworn testimony of her husband when he went to court seeking money in a malpractice case to pay for her rehabilitation (which was never provided), Florida Circuit Judge George Greer has ordered termination of Terri's feeding and hydration, regardless that she's neither terminally ill nor in a coma.

Judge Greer first ordered removal of Terri's nutrition and hydration tube on Feb. 11, 2000. He did it again on Feb. 25, 2005, despite numerous intervention efforts by family lawyers, the governor of Florida and the Florida Legislature. After disconnection, Judge Greer has refused to even allow medical professionals to examine Terri to see if she can take food and water orally.

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Judge Greer's order is based on the application of her husband and court-appointed guardian, Michael. Experts say that by depriving his cognitively disabled wife, who is not otherwise dying, of food and water will cause death in 10 days to two weeks.

As this column is being written, the Florida Legislature is trying to pass a law for the second time that would prevent a guardian — like Terri's husband — from allowing an individual in a "persistent vegetative state" to die by withholding artificial tube feeding unless that person had left written instructions to that effect.

Regardless of one's views about assisted suicide, many have difficulty rationalizing the order of a judge to slowly dehydrate and starve a cognitively deficient individual over a period of two weeks.

Recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have reversed the death penalty sentences of convicted murderers because they were teens at the time they committed their crimes, but the same court did not intervene in the Schiavo case. And, at the same time, the Bush administration is challenging the Oregon assisted-suicide law, it is calling for significant reductions in benefits for the sickest Americans. Truly, inconsistency is the only constant.

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JAN L. WARNER received his A.B. and J.D. degrees from the University of South Carolina and earned a Master of Legal Letters (L.L.M.) in Taxation from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a frequent lecturer at legal education and public information programs throughout the United States. His articles have been published in national and state legal publications. Jan Collins began co-authoring Flying SoloŽ in 1989. She has more than 27 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. To comment or ask a question, please click here.


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Gambling on long-term care insurance; poor dental health in nursing home
Mom may have written me out of her will
Ensuring gifts to grandkids are used for college
Readers rail against politicians; homes showing less restraint
Can I be paid from my uncle's cash?
How can we afford my husband's rehab?
Rule your money from the grave
Planning from a distance
Our fight to improve Mom's care
The long path to deducting at-home care
Getting respite for adult caregivers
Do we tell the kids they're not in our plan?
HIPAA hurts careless life planners
Son's sins infect Mom's care
The sudden pitfalls of an immediate annuity
Furious at home's poor care of Mom
How the government bilks seniors
Solid answers about osteoporosis
The taxing affair of gift giving
Searching for a facility that offers independence
Does anesthesia enfeeble the elderly?
Warning about 'Do Not Resuscitate' (DNR)
Why is Mom such a hoarder?; Medicaid law may leave child homeless
Brother's reaction to Mom's death angers siblings
Unwisely reducing drug dosages
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Are Dad's living expenses tax-deductible?
Recovering confidence after a fall
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Sister's early death sparks family estate war
Poor financial planning leaves Dad cash-strapped
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Bankrupt seniors now the debt generation
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Compensating sister for Mom's care; purchasing life insurance policies from terminally ill individuals
My aunt profited from grandpa's weak will; foreclosing against senior is best
Pay employer taxes for caregivers?
Help Mom organize her finances
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How the government bilks seniors
Dad's new wife took the inheritance
Parents' trustee choice a hidden blessing
Finding the money for home care
Elderly mom is sweet on a hunky aide
'Ziva' gets the scoop on nation's nursing homes
Care decisions for 'elder orphans'
Seeking help for dementia victims
Read admission-package 'agreements'; booting a patient once Medicaid kicks in
Can the kids block our cash flow?; childless couple agonizes over whether to use
powers of attorney or a living trust to manage our assets

Control your assets from the grave
Slacker son will blow his fortune; lawyer's role in "estate-planning"
Mom remarried and spent my inheritance; doesn't want daughter-in-law to receive anything from estate
Can we stop our brother from swindling us?
What Gifting Will Disqualify You From Medicaid
The 'magic' language for a power of attorney agreement
Is care insurance a healthy choice?
Is there protection against Medicaid costs?
Long-term care insurance comes up short
HIPAA -- too much privacy?; nursing home doc could care less
Private pay nursing home residents pay more
Separated families should use care managers
What Makes Up a Caregiving Team?
Who is the client, parents or children?:

© 2005, Jan Warner