You are hereOne Physician’s View on the Terri Schiavo Case.
One Physician’s View on the Terri Schiavo Case.
by Mickey Denen
I feel a need to comment on the Terri Schiavo case, as I am listed among the columnists of Planet Preterist. My qualifications for commenting are that I am a Board Certified Internist and Board Certified Pediatrician. I have been awarded the title of Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and am eligible for the title of Fellow of the American College of Physicians. I feel a need to comment on the Terri Schiavo case, as I am listed among the columnists of Planet Preterist. My qualifications for commenting are that I am a Board Certified Internist and Board Certified Pediatrician. I have been awarded the title of Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and am eligible for the title of Fellow of the American College of Physicians. I have been involved in pro-life ministry for more than 10 years as either a member of the Executive Board or the Medical Advisory Board of local crisis pregnancy centers. I have spoken publicly and written in the local newspaper on pro-life issues from both a medical and Biblical perspective. Although I am not familiar with the medical facts surrounding her case, there are some important principles that all of us should draw from the case. The three issues I perceive are: 1) make your desires known in a legal document, 2) what do we call an act that takes a person from the state of life to death and 3) what rights does the “husband” have in the case when he is scripturally divorced from his wife.
First, if you do not have a Living Will and a Durable Power of Attorney for medical decisions (the names of these documents will vary from state to state) you need to do this now. These documents allow everyone to know what you wish to be done in the circumstance where you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself and designate a person to make decisions for you in the circumstances that are not spelled out in your Living Will. This likely would have kept the case out of the courts and the national press. These documents would have left this case in the hands of medical professionals and family members, where these decisions need to be made, not in the hands of lawyers and courts. In my experience, medical decisions are best made by medical professionals and families, not lawyers, courts and elected officials. If you get nothing out of this article except this point, it will be a blessing to your family.
Second we must be intellectually honest. If Terri Schiavo is not brain dead or dead by any other standard, then she is alive. If someone acts in some manner that leads to Terri Schiavo’s death, then she has been killed. I am not a lawyer, but this seems to be murder, homicide or manslaughter. Having said that, I will tell you these situations are very difficult for families and all of the medical professionals involved. It is not unusual to be at the limits of what humanity can do for a patient. I will continue to argue there is a distinct difference between not doing something that seems to be medically futile and denying a patient food and water. Again these decisions are best made by families and medical professionals on a case by case basis. In the last month I have found myself counseling patients and their families on the limits of modern medical knowledge twice. As someone who has been trained to do something when illness is diagnosed, the decision to leave things in the hands of God and do nothing except pray is hard.
Finally, I have a great deal of difficulty with the rights of Terri Schiavo’s “husband”. My understanding of him is that he has a common law wife and children with this common law wife. If this is true, it would seem that Terri is scripturally divorced from her “husband”, Matthew 5:32. By this standard I would argue that he would have no rights to contradict the wishes of other family members who want her to stay alive. I can relate stories of family members who have asked me, “Was there anything else we could have done for (their loved one's name) that they might be alive today?” In my experience it seems to be just as difficult for family members to “give up” as it is for medical professionals.
As of this writing, unless Governor Bush or President Bush intervenes using the protective powers of the State to save Terri Schiavo’s life, she will die in the next few days. Hopefully, we Christians can enter into this debate in such a way that honors God. This may be the first major ethical debate of the post-modern era we are entering. If this is true, we need to have an answer that can shape the era we are moving into. Maybe the answer lies in the words of Jesus, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)