Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2003 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Case: Speaking out for those who can't
The Terri Schindler-Schiavo case is not a "death with dignity" issue.
So comments Jane M. Orient, M.D., Executive Director of The Association of
American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), who issued this statement in
response to the emergency action of the Florida legislature to reinstate
feeding and hydration of Terri Schindler-Schiavo:
"Terri Schindler-Schiavo has won a temporary stay from execution by a
method too cruel to be used for convicted criminals. And yet her husband's
attorney is trying to spin it into a 'death with dignity issue' with his
comments on Tuesday last week."
Her husband says it's cruel to begin rehydration. The opposite is true
dehydration is a cruel, painful death. It is unconscionable that the state
ordered removal of her feeding tube in the first place it's nothing less
than state sponsored euthanasia.
Terri is not dependent on advanced medical interventions. Nothing is
mechanically pumping her blood, or forcing oxygen into her lungs. She is
simply being fed through a gastrostomy tube.
This is a tube inserted through a very small opening, created in the upper
left portion of the abdomen, directly into the stomach. This is not an
exhuberant, extreme or extraordinary means of life support. Would we allow
a retarded child to be starved to death?
Some physicians believe that Terri could be rehabilitated to some extent,
at least so that she could swallow oral feedings and eliminate the need for
the tube. She should be allowed to try, but so far her husband has blocked
every attempt to see whether she can swallow. Doctors have offered pro
bono treatment, if money is the barrier for her husband.
Although severely disabled, some believe that Terri does have the capacity
to communicate a desire to live. Her husband has obstructed efforts at
rehabilitation or independent assessments of his wife's true state.
Notes Dr. Orient further, "Where are the 'compassionate end of life' groups
such as the Robert Wood Johnson 'Last Acts' initiative, and why aren't they
weighing in on this?"
The ethical question for Terri's nurses and physicians prior to the Jeb
Bush reprieve was whether they would cooperate in carrying out a death
warrant. And the ethical question for all of us is whether we will allow
the state courts to obstruct the efforts of people who want to provide the
minimum of medical care to patients who should receive it but can't speak
out for themselves.
If we go down that path, who's to say what treatment the state will prevent
you from getting?
For the time being it boils down to the fact that Terri is still alive.
Perhaps not well, but alive. Does she or does she not have the
"inalienable right to life" proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence?
Merely functional criteria and arguments, e.g., "How much is she
contributing to society?" are utilitarian and very limited.
And ultimately, looking up the road to the future, wouldn't it be far
better for the courts, legislatures, governors and lawyers to stay out of
medical care and leave the difficult decisions to those trained in the
healthcare professions and to their patients.
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments
on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a past president of the
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and a Discovery Institute
honorary fellow and board member.
JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
Comment by clicking here.
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