March 21, 2005

The Twilight Zone

The final vote in the House was 203 yeah and 58 nay.  The familiar saying that hard cases make bad law may be true in Terri's case. 

While I am pleased that the President has signed the emergency legislation that allows a federal court to review Terri's case,  I don't think that an extraordinary appeal to Congress is the way to handle such cases. 

I  hope that this Congress seriously debates and considers how to provide the incapacitated with rights that insure the same due process if they have left no written directives that we accord convicted criminals.    "The facts of this case suggest that existing safeguards are dangerously inadequate" the editors of the National Review write. Democrat Michael Totten writes To Save or Not to Save and questions what the White House will do about people who are taken off life support because their families have run out of money.

I hope every adult appoints a health care proxy first, or at minimum, leaves advance medical directives.
There is no excuse for a competent adult American to leave their families clueless as to what to do.

Because absent a health care proxy, absent a living will, we have entered the twilight zone.

The debate on the right to live,  the right to die and the right to euthanize has begun. 

Whatever your opinion is on the Terri Schiavo case, there is no debate that the issue touches all of us.

No doubt we can keep bodies alive almost forever.  With oodles of money, Sunny von Bulow is still alive after 20 years in a coma.  While the battle for Terri raged on, a baby born with a fatal defect died after the removal of life support against the mother's wishes.  Does Spiro Nikolouzos meet the criteria for brain dead?  If his family can not find an institution who will take him, his life support will be cut off in 10 days.  In both cases, the hospitals were concerned about the rising costs of what they considered futile care. 

We're hearing about the rising costs of supporting aging boomers in their retirement.  What about the costs of keeping boomers alive through tax-supported Medicare?    The costs of end of life care can be extraordinary, a fact which prompted former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm to say in 1984 that "we have a duty to die" and get out of the way of younger generations.  He was often misquoted as saying the elderly have a duty to die. 

"I am fairly sure that the young generation and the baby boomers are going to demand more control over life and death," said Lamm. "I think they're going to demand physician-assisted suicide. We have some of these ethical issues that lie in our future, and we just have no idea of how tough they're going to be."

I don't have all the answers.    I do have some sense of how tough these issues are and will increasingly be.  I am concerned about the rights of the disabled and incapacitated.  I  think a lethal injection or increasing doses of morphine is far more humane than starving people to death.
I hope people think of the costs of futile care.  I  hope people think of themselves as part of a great continuum and face the prospect of death bravely.    I hope that people will decide for themselves and spare their families.

UPDATE: These women are yeoman -  doing the research and finding the facts and not just spouting opinions.  See What Bush Did in Texas by the Anchoress and Katherine Lopez at the Corner

Posted by Jill Fallon at March 21, 2005 6:45 PM | Permalink

The best thing is to say as you do, "I don't have all the answers".
We need to be able to choose when we can what we want to happen when we can't. What a burden for others to have to make such decisions for us.
I can never understand politicians who struggle over matters of life and death while supporting the death penalty. There but for fortune . . .

Posted by: Tom C at March 21, 2005 5:10 PM

The GOP just guaranteed every American universal health coverage

If the Republicans believe their "culture of life" requires the federal government to intervene and assure adequate medical care any time an American is at risk of bodily harm, then we can assume this "culture of life" applies to other Americans when they too need critical medical care yet something stands in their way.

For example:

- poor people, the homeless, the underemployed, illegal immigrants who can't afford to pay for their medical help
- the elderly who don't have enough money to pay for the kind of expensive medical attention they may need later in life
- parents of newborns facing catastrophic illness
- regular Americans who can't afford health insurance, have no health insurance for any other reason, or who have health insurance that doesn't cover their current major or catastrophic illness.
- any American who ends up facing any kind of major illness or threat to their health and who can't afford to pay for adequate treatment. STRIKE THAT, money is irrelevant, this is the Culture of Life we're talking about. That should read "any American facing any kind of major illness or health threat, period - regardless of ability to pay" - in Schiavo's case, money isn't the issue, yet they're still guaranteeing federal help. And after all, isn't the Culture of Life more important than dollars anyway?

In other words, the GOP just guaranteed every American universal health coverage. And if that's not what they're guaranteeing, ask them why not? Is the Terri Schiavo case about the "culture of life" - or is it simply about Tom DeLay and the radical right grandstanding when they don't really give a damn about anybody's life?

Some enterprising Democrat should write up the Culture of Life Act (Terri's bill) immediately and introduce it, guaranteeing universal health coverage to ensure that every American is guaranteed their "culture of life."

Posted by: kuros at March 22, 2005 6:02 PM

Koros: One of the distressing aspects of the Schiavo case has been how it's been politicized. Isn't it just possible that most of the Congressman voted their conscience on this. Isn't it possible they were moved by the prospect THAT THIS WOMAN WAS UNDER A JUDICIAL ORDER TO STARVE TO DEATH. After all, it was a voice vote in the Senate, 203 in the House and only 58 nay. I would have preferred the original Martinez bill to provide habeas corpus relief to incapacitated people UNDER A JUDICAL ORDER TO REMOVE FEEDING TUBES when they leave no written directive.

What is it about the "culture of life" as opposed to the "culture of death" that so sticks in your craw. And I don't get your point the GOP guaranteeing universal health care. What I want to know would you prefer that we starve to death disabled babies, what about the elderly with Alzheimers, hell why not all the 25,000 PVS patients in the country, then you could go after the retarded, then maybe the ugly, then the stupid. People not concerned about the culture of life could really clean this country up and cut down on health care costs at the same time.

Where would you draw the line?

Posted by: Jill at March 22, 2005 7:34 PM

I think that when it comes to a death order by a court order, weather criminal or civil, the person senteced to death should be allowed full legal review. Allowing for the person to be represented by his or her own attorney and progressive medical exams. If she is truley in a PVS continuing scan would make the evidence conclusive -- You can't measure progress or direction with one picture or point, the more pictures or points you have the more acurate your measurement will be. I think that congress should insure the laws are clear in this area.

Posted by: jetson at March 23, 2005 8:09 AM


I couldn't agree more. That's why I support the extension of habeas corpus review in the federal courts to cases involving incapacitated people who have left no directive but who face the removal of feeding tubes. Of course, this resort to the courts won't be needed if families agree on a course of action. But when families disagree, at least there would be an avenue

Posted by: Jill at March 23, 2005 8:27 AM

What an utterly horrible condition to be in. We should be exhausting all means to rehab her instead of trying to kill her. And what of her husband! Geeze she just had the cards stacked against here. It is very evident that after Terri spent two years in her “broken” state of consciousness that here husband was ready to “dispose” of her. He had grown tired of his vows of “for better or worse” and was plotting to engage the “untill death do us part” clause of the contract.

Posted by: Freaki at March 23, 2005 4:56 PM