Health Care Proxy: Living Wills

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Health Care Proxy – Living Wills

August 4, 2011

In 1975, Karen Ann Quinlan was a front-page news story in the New York City metropolitan area. From New Jersey, Karen was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) after complications with drug and alcohol poisoning. She was kept alive only by a breathing respirator and a feeding tube. Her parents fought to have the respirator removed after a full year but didn’t realize that she would survive another 10 years. Karen lived by the aide of the feeding tube until she died of pneumonia in 1985. Fast forward to a case from Florida that gained worldwide media attention. The case encompassed the years from 1990 – 2005 when Terri Schiavo was on a feeding tube after collapsing and losing oxygen to her brain. Terri’s husband wanted to remove the tube after eight years, with the understanding that Terri would not want to live in that state. Terri’s parents wanted to keep her on the feeding tube, hoping that Terri would recover one day. These are only two cases among hundreds of cases that are referenced online. Each case presents a little different situation, thus creating a little different law to help solve the issue. Religion, culture, and inherent beliefs about what is right or wrong in keeping loved ones alive is what presents the different situations. In the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, her family were staunch Catholics that believed in the right to life. In our Catholic home, at the very time this case was televised, taking Karen off the respirator was the preferred choice. People who had a strong faith in heaven and God also believed that an artificial respirator was keeping Karen from going to where God wanted her naturally. After a year of no improvement in Karen’s vegetative state, the Quinlans requested that no

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Health Care Proxy – Living Wills

August 4, 2011

further artificial means of keep their daughter alive. The hospital was threatened with charges of homicide by their county police department if they honored the parents’ request. Together, the hospital and the parents worked on getting a court order to have Karen removed from the ventilator. The New Jersey

Supreme Court actually took the parents’ Catholic beliefs into consideration and cited Pope Pius XII’s address to a group of doctor’s in 1957. Catholic theology does not condone extraordinary measures in keeping patients alive. “The

requirement of an expressed or implied will of the patient by Catholic moral theology is a guarantee against the undue influence of governmental or other agencies which might not have the patient's best interests as a motivation in such personal matters.”1 Their wish was honored and Karen was removed from the ventilator in 1976 but lived with a feeding tube until 1985. In May of 1998, eight years after Terri became comatose, her husband, Michael Schiavo, filed a petition to have her feeding tube removed. The court appointed Richard Pearse, a lawyer for Terri, who “found that there was no possibility of improvement but that Michael's decisions might have been influenced by the potential to inherit what remained of Terri Schiavo's estate. Due to a lack of a living will and questions regarding Michael's credibility, Pearse recommended denying his petition to remove her feeding tube”.2 This is

ludicrous considering Michael Schiavo spent eight long years at his wife’s bedside with the hope of her recovery. The lawyer, it appears, just created The Schindler’s, Terri’s

additional unwarranted ethical issues to the case.
1 2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Ann_Quinlan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terri_Schiavo_case 2

Health Care Proxy – Living Wills

August 4, 2011

parents, "claimed that Terri was a devout Roman Catholic who would not wish to violate the Church's teachings on euthanasia by refusing nutrition and hydration."3 Ironically, this is the exact opposite of what the Quinlan’s were citing as a reason for their Catholic faith only 22 years prior....
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