Jewish World Review March 21, 2005 / 10 Adar II, 5765
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
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.
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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