Wish for death is not so clear cut
In his Aug. 28 column, Rich Mayfield attempted to defend the sanctity of life by issuing a death wish on Terri Schiavo, an unfortunate 40-year-old woman with a severe brain injury, whose case is now before the Florida Supreme Court. In doing so, Mayfield is taking the side of Terri’s husband and legal guardian and the doctors he has hired to portray Terri as someone who “has lain in a coma for the past 14 years completely unresponsive.” It seems, however, that things are never quite so clear cut. I would like to refer interested readers and Mayfield as well to http://www.terris fight.org, a Web site run by Terri’s parents and family. In it, you can read about the agonizing legal battles they have fought against Mr. Schiavo over the years, culminating in the last year with “Terri’s Law” passed by the Florida legislature, giving Gov. Jeb Bush authority to act on Terri’s behalf. The Web site also has video of Terri, showing her as alert, emotionally responsive and attempting to communicate verbally, which would mean her diagnosis is that of being mentally disabled and not of being in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Apparently, her only “life support” is a tube providing food and water. Please also find there some of the conflicts of interest on the side of Terri’s husband, who has gone on to start a family with another woman.End-of-life issues are extremely tragic and complex. As a physician who has cared for many over the years in similar circumstances, I would urge everyone to write out advanced directives and discuss them with their spouse and family. I would also refer you to an excellent statement prepared by the Christian Medical Association at http://www.cmdahome.org under “Issues>Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia.”It is a statement of the ethical issues in PVS cases, including the controversy on the use of artificially administered nutrition in such patients. However, proper treatment can only be given after proper diagnosis. This site also references a 1996 study where 17 out of 40 patients (43 percent) admitted to a nursing facility with PVS were in fact misdiagnosed. It seems in the case of Terri Schiavo, the diagnosis of PVS does not apply and she is fortunate to have family and a governor stand up for her most basic, and hopefully, inalienable right to life.
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