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