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Sanctity of life means knowing when end has come

RICH MAYFIELD

One of the saddest stories in a very sad news day came out of Tallahassee, Fla., with a report that the case of Terri Schiavo has now come before the Florida Supreme Court.Ms. Schiavo lives in a nursing home in Clearwater, Fla. She also lives in a vegetative state after a heart irregularity in 1990 destroyed much of her brain’s function. The jurists were listening to an appeal by attorneys for Gov. Jeb Bush of a lower court’s decision regarding a special law passed by the Florida Legislature denying Ms. Schiavo’s husband and guardian from allowing his wife to peacefully pass on. What it boils down to is this: A woman has laid in a coma for the past 14 years completely unresponsive. Her husband seeks to end this nightmarish existence. Gov. Bush is arguing that the sanctity of life overrides any other argument no matter how tragic the circumstances.And this circumstance is terribly tragic. One can’t help but wonder how Ms. Schiavo’s life is sanctified trapped as it is by tubes and machines, condemned to slowly, ever so slowly, waste away.The question, of course, is whether there are states of being worse than death. Gov. Bush as the chief executive of Florida is passionate that there is not. Many others, including physicians, clerics, ethicists and other folk who don’t want to even imagine such a horror happening to one of their own loved ones, proclaim a resounding yes.Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm has explored this dilemma in his new book, “The Brave New World of Health Care”: “… new realities require us to rethink how we make the best of life’s end. The world of death and dying has dramatically changed and we have to create individual and societal answers that reflect those new realities.” He points to Ms. Schiavo’s tragic case as an example of these new realities, particularly the enormous cost such a condition places on both family and taxpayers: “As we can see from the recent Florida case of PVS (persistent vegetative state) patient Terri Schiavo, a governor can get national attention for intervening in what the medical community said was a hopeless case of PVS; yet no one holds the same governor accountable for failing to even try to cover Florida’s uninsured.” Clearly, our understanding of the sanctity of life can differ dramatically. For some, it seems, sanctity is more concerned with the dying than the living.

All of this is of particular interest to me as I write this on the eve of my own date with a surgeon. Cervical fusion is a relatively routine procedure unless, of course, it happens to be your spine that is being fused. I have great confidence in my surgeon and his staff, but I have spent enough time in hospitals to know that no surgery comes with a 100 percent guarantee. A scalpel slips, the anesthesia has an unexpected side effect, your blood decides to throw a clot and suddenly Ms. Schiavo isn’t an interesting news item but a peer.If curses really count, I issue mine against anyone who would do to me what Gov. Bush is doing to Terri Schiavo. Gov. Lamm included this poem in his outstanding book. It is written by Mary V. Traeger of Sun City, Ariz.Living WillTake me off the tubes and hose.Stop the IV as it flows.God forbid that I should live

Punctured like a bloody sieve. Respirator bags and dopeChain me here when there’s no hope.Free my body from machine.Let the end be quick and clean. Sense and spirit long have fledFrom the body on this bed.Send my organs to the banks.

They will be received with thanks. What good reason can there beFor prolonging misery?When my vital functions cease,Let me go in grateful peace. I’ll second that. It is too bad Ms. Schiavo doesn’t have that chance. Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at richmayfied@earthlink.net.


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