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Asking Life and Death Questions

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I have tried to avoid talking about this for a lot of reasons. I have been fatigued by the saturation coverage of this story. I have been turned off by some of the characters involved. I have been nauseated by the politicizing of this (although I recognize the inevitability of that).

Now that the United States Supreme Court has declined to intervene, it appears we now know where this story is going to end.

So what do we all think about it? Me? I do not know. I do not think most of the people talking know. I wish more of them would say so. I sense an awful lot of arrogance in the face of something that ought to be very humbling and hear a lot of noise where I think we should hear a lot of silence. Maybe I am just overcomplicating a simple matter, but I do not think so.

At what point does the concept of life as a value become secondary to the value of quality of life? Does quality of life ever trump life itself and where does that path lead? Who makes that decision? Is anyone among us qualified to answer that question? Is anyone among us qualified to answer that question for another person? Is it ever appropriate for a person to make that decision for someone else? What role do doctors and nurses play in this? What role does the law play?

I am a smart guy. And I feel stupid when I consider those questions. There are only two things of which I feel pretty sure in this situation. The first: we should probably make these decisions for ourselves if only to try and keep this out of the court system (to say nothing of sparing families additional anguish). The second: we have opened a dangerous and troubling can of worms.

Beyond that I am just not sure. I do not know what I would want done to/for me were I in similar circumstances. I cannot even begin to comprehend being asked these questions in the event my wife found herself in this situation. I do not even want to think about the hell it would be for a parent in this situation.

I just don’t know.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    DJR, good questions. I, too, have been struck by the certainty of many commenters here and elsewhere that Terri Schiavo’s life is not worth living.

    Legally, I think the case has played out as it should have, with her husband retaining guardianship, even though I’m not personally sure of his good intentions. But unless there is absolute proof, and not just innuendo or creepy coincidence, of malfeasance on his part, we just have to keep the spousal guardianship in place.

    In general, I do think it’s appropriate for family members [spouses included, not just birth families] to decide for someone else that their quality of life is just too poor to go on — when that person is in a persistive vegetative state/coma/brain dead/terminally ill, etc. It happens all the time, and we should be able to step in and say that we don’t want our spouse/father/mother/brother/sister to linger any longer when there’s no hope of improvement.

    But it’s not cut and dry as to when to make that decision. It’s easier with an elderly family member who’s had a full life. Much harder with a young person or with someone in no pain. Each family has to figure it out on its own, if the patient hasn’t said what s/he’d want to happen.

    I personally am uncomfortable with the idea of starvation as a way to end a life if the person him/herself hasn’t said that it specifically was okay.

    But we can’t be so afraid of death that we keep people medically alive indefinitely merely for the sake of avoiding death.

  • robbyrob

    terri is in the same medically needy program as i am down here in florida

    we are hoping that the attention that terri is receiving will focus on the medically needy program and our fight to save it

    thank you

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/0,,SB111162674657988316-jIRA1ASVoX5kjzRV01RcNs5CkvU_20050423,00.html?mod=tff_main_tff_top