If That Ever Happens to Me: Making Life and Death Decisions after Terri Schiavo

By Lois Shepherd | Go to book overview

3
IN CONTEXT—
LAW AND ETHICS

Outside of the specially passed laws and particular facts of Terri Schiavo's case, Americans have our history, the foundations of our government, our ethical and moral foundations, and our laws. Indeed, one of the most disturbing aspects of the drama was how readily some of our political leaders wanted to make this case “special,” not subject to established rules, not to be guided by orderly judicial process or the benefit of the wisdom from past cases and carefully considered ethical frameworks. This happened partly because thirty-second media images allowed an oversimplification of what the issues really were, as when the leader of the U.S. Senate, himself a doctor, felt capable of making a diagnosis based on a televised videotape of Terri. And it happened partly because when we talk about things like rights, responsibilities, and care, we tend to use the terms loosely, and we don't tend to respect how much and how complexly our rights and responsibilities are bound up in each other's.

In this chapter, I will look at three fundamental legal and ethical questions involved in making decisions about Terri's life and death. The first is: What were her rights? Did she have a right to die, or a right to life? Did she have a right to refuse treatment, or to be fed? Are some of these rights more “fundamental” or more established than others? It is important in understanding what was done in her case and what will guide future cases to carefully identify what rights we recognize in this context. Second, I will introduce the problem of how Terri could exercise these rights when she had no voice. What rules do we follow and how do we respect patients' rights—especially rights involving choices—when someone else has to speak for them and the stakes are high, matters of life and death? Finally, I will consider

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If That Ever Happens to Me: Making Life and Death Decisions after Terri Schiavo
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Disorders of Consciousness and the Permanent Vegetative State 15
  • 2: Legal and Political Wrangling Over Terri's Life 35
  • 3: In Context— Law and Ethics 57
  • 4: Terri's Wishes 77
  • 5: The Limits of Evidence 96
  • 6: The Implications of Surrogacy 112
  • 7: Qualities of Life 128
  • 8: Feeding 143
  • 9: The Preservation of Life 162
  • 10: Respect and Care an Alternative Framework 173
  • Appendix - The National Right to Life Committee's Model Starvation and Dehydration of Persons with Disabilities Prevention Act 189
  • Notes 193
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 215
  • Studies in Social Medicine 223
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