As a nurse who has taken care of many patients with neurological trauma and impairment similar to that of Terri Schiavo, I do believe there is a time to end heroics. That time is: A) When the patient meets the legal criteria for brain death; or B) When there is prior legal documentation of the patient’s wishes regarding the extent of medical care/support to be provided in order to sustain his/her life.
Neither exists in the case of Terri Schiavo. Instead we have the word of Mr. Schiavo, a man with a pregnant mistress and child. A man who also has a large medical malpractice settlement that stipulates a significant portion of the money is for Terri’s rehabilitation. ("Right to die sounds nice until it’s your time to go," Kathleen Parker/The Oklahoman, Oct.26, 2003.)
Dead people can’t be rehabilitated. Money earmarked for rehabilitation can be spent in the event of that person’s death.
One can’t help but wonder at what point Mr. Schiavo revealed the fact that Terri had stated her preference for death if she became brain damaged. During the medical malpractice trial when he stood to benefit from his wife’s infirmity? Or afterward, when he realized a major chunk of the settlement was for Terri’s care, not his good pleasure?
Quality of life and life are apples and oranges. "Life" has legal definition whereas quality of life is subjective. The life that Christopher Reeve possesses does not meet my personal standard for quality of life, but I wouldn’t unplug his ventilator. The day society allows the taking of life based upon an individual’s definition of the quality of that life, we’re all in trouble.
As to the argument that Florida’s governor has overstepped his bounds: If a governor has the authority to grant a stay of execution in the case of a convicted murderer on death row, a governor should have the authority to grant a stay of execution in the case of a woman whose only crime is failure to die according to her husband’s timetable.
If Mr. Schiavo wishes to opt out of the "in sickness and in health" clause of his marriage contract, the legal option available to him is divorce, not murder.
-- Elissa Crocker, RN, BSN