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