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Terri Schiavo

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The issue on whether or not euthanasia is ethical or even legal is one that many have debated on over the years.  In the United States, the issue on the potential legalization as a result of the growing international trend of legalizing child euthanasia is something that has been gaining momentum (Pence 2005).  In other parts of the world, there have already been laws that now allow for euthanasia to occur.  With the recent media attention surrounding the Terri Schiavo case, the question that must be addressed is whether or not there should be guidelines with regard to right to refuse medical treatment and right to die (Pence 2005).  Corollary to this is the issue that if there are guidelines, should they be moral, ethical or legal guidelines.

Terri Schiavo (Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo) was suffering from severe brain damage and had to be continually fed through a tube.  This medical condition was a result of her collapse in her home in 1990 (Lynne 2005).  The ensuring respiratory and cardiac arrest had resulted in her having severe brain damage.  This had left her in what is called PVS or persistent vegetative state and led to over fifteen (15) years of hospital care (Lynne 2005).  In the face of mounting medical expenses, the husband of Terri Schiavo, Michael Schiavo, petitioned the court to have her feeding tube removed (Lynne 2005).  In response to this petition, the Pinellas County Circuit Court ordered that the tube be removed because the court had judged that Terri herself would not have wanted to continue these life-prolonging devices (Lynne 2005).

The main issue that arises in this situation revolves around whether or not from a legal perspective, should Terri Schiavos feeding tube have been removed?  Euthanasia is indeed a very big issue that must ultimately be resolved sooner than later (Pence 2005).  There has been so much media attention regarding euthanasia in general and not just child euthanasia in the past few decades.  From Jack Kevorkian to Terry Schiavo, the question of whether or not a person has the right to die has been posed (Schindler 2005).  In most American states, there are specific laws that have been enacted that prohibit the taking of one’s own life and there have also been many laws against assisted suicide (Pence 2005).  These laws charge many particular offenses such as charging those who would assist with suicide with manslaughter or attempted murder (Ignatoff 2005).  The question that remains to be resolved is whether or not such a position on Euthanasia is a tenable one.

The situation is much more different from an ethical point of view, especially when one considers the code of ethics that bind physicians.  The relevant code on this matter is the principle that the exercise of professional judgment should always be in the best interests of the patients and the general public (Ignatoff 2005).  This means that when considering whether or not a patient is to be left in a vegetative state the welfare of the patient and the family must be considered.  From this perspective, it is clear that the decision to remove the feeding-tube was done more for ethical reasons.

The responsibility that the Code of Ethics requires is a direct one for a physician.  The covered personnel are professionally accountable for their practice.  This means that they are responsible for all acts of omissions that occur in the practice (Ignatoff 2005).  This even holds true regardless of the advice or the directions of the manager or any other professional.  All professional actions must be made in light of the principles outlined under the code of ethics and physician must be ready to justify all actions if asked to do so (Ignatoff 2005).

Now that the issues have been threshed out, this section will discuss the reasons why the decision to remove the feeding-tube was not a proper decision from the legal or ethical point of view.  The first reason is that no person or government for that matter has the intrinsic right to determine whether or not a person should live or die.  While it may certainly be argued that convicts on death row have had their rights violated, a closer inspection will reveal that it is not an analogous circumstance.  In the case at hand, Terri Schiavo is not a convict but an innocent victim (Schindler 2005).  As such, despite her arguably vegetative state and lack of consciousness, the decision to end her life by removing all life-prolonging mechanisms is not a decision within the power of any court or government (Schindler 2005).  This is clear from the decision of the court in asking for evidence that such removal of the feeding-tube was actually something that Terri Schiavo would want.

            It has also been argued that correlative to the right to live is the right to decide when to die.  It is interesting to point out that suicide or even attempted suicide is not a crime that is punishable under Criminal law (Ignatoff 2005).  Be that as it may, however, it does not necessarily mean that a living will or testament that expresses the desire to be removed from any life-prolonging mechanisms should always be honored by the courts (Ignatoff 2005).  Such would be an act that ignores the intrinsic value of life and the inviolable dignity of the person.

            From the perspective of health law and the medical profession, the fact that there exist life-prolonging mechanisms for cases such as Terri Schiavo means that the sanctity of life is also respected.  Physicians and Doctors, while given the power to save lives, have not been given the power to take lives (Schindler 2005).  It is a totally different matter when it comes to administering medical treatment and to refuse to administer treatment because of the perceived futility of such act (Schindler 2005).

            The decision on the right to medical treatment or to death is not within the power of courts; such an act is not for one to decide.  There is no way to justify the termination of a person’s life even if it means ending one’s suffering.  Men was never designated as Gods and given the power to determine whether or not a person deserves to live or die.  Nobody has the right to make that choice.  The only person who can probably make that choice is in some place where He cannot be reached for a comment on the matter.

Works Cited:

Lynne, Diane (2005) Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman ISBN 1-58182-488-2

Fuhrman, Mark (2005) Silent Witness: The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo’s Death ISBN 0-06-085337-9

Hirsh, Michael (2006) Terri: The Truth by Michael Schiavo, Michael Hirsh (2006) ISBN 0-525-94946-1

Ignatoff, Audrey (2005) Remembering Terri Schiavo: Reflections of a Health Care Warrior ISBN 1-4116-3220-6

Pence, Gregory (2005) “Terri Schiavo: When Does Personhood End?” The Elements of Bioethics, ISBN 978-0-07-313277-8

Schindler, Mary and Schindler Robert (2005) A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo — A Lesson For Us All ISBN 0-446-57987-4

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