Terri Schiavo

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Nurs 2500: Ethical, Legal and Moral aspects of Nursing
School of Advanced Nursing Education
The University of The West Indies
Melissa Balbosa Craigwell 811005170

Biography of Terri Schiavo
On the 25th February 1990, 26-year-old Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage when her heart stopped for five minutes. In June of 1990, Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, was appointed her plenary guardian by the courts. In September of 1993, Michael Schiavo authorized the nursing home she resides in to write a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order for Terri. Schiavo spent the following years in rehabilitation centers and nursing homes but never regained higher brain function. In 1998 her husband, Michael Schiavo, filed a legal petition to have Schiavo's feeding tube removed, saying that his wife had told him before her medical crisis that she would not want to be artificially kept alive in such a situation. Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, fought this request. Florida judge George W. Greer ruled in 2000 that Schiavo was "beyond all doubt" in a persistent vegetative state and that her husband could discontinue life support. But as legal appeals in the case continued, the case became widely known as some religious groups and pro-life activists began to insist that Schiavo should be kept alive. Schiavo's feeding tube was removed in 2003, but reinserted six days later when the Florida legislature passed "Terri's Law," which allowed the state's governor to issue a stay in such cases. The law was later ruled invalid by the courts. At this time, there may also have appeared to be a conflict of interest, as Michael had two children with a long-term girlfriend. In March of 2005 Schiavo's feeding tube was again removed, and the case became a greater public sensation when the U.S. Congress was called into special emergency session to pass a bill allowing federal courts to review the case, with President George W. Bush flying from Texas to Washington especially to sign the bill into law. However, federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene. After two weeks without food and water, Schiavo died of dehydration on the 31st March 2005 at the age of 41. Some the ethical issues involved in this case include; autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence, justice, religious views - Roman Catholic - sanctity of life, no advance directives, Terri’s pre incapacitation verbal comments, and conflict of interest (familial, financial and institutional). The patient had severe brain damage. This followed a history of a sudden collapse secondary to cardiac arrest which resulted in prolonged cerebral hypoxia. She was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. Prognosis for patients in this state is poor. This condition is deemed to be chronic and irreversible. The goal of treatment is to alleviate pain and suffering. The probability of success cannot truly be determined as the patient is unable to communicate. In this case rehabilitative efforts were found to be unsuccessful, and a court order was issued for life support to be ended. The patient benefits from medical care through treatment that alleviates any pain or distress. Nursing care also seeks to alleviate pain and distress through palliative care which seeks to provide comfort and maintain dignity. Harm is avoided when there are no conscious efforts to hasten or prolong death. Terri Schiavo was not mentally capable and, therefore, not legally competent. The evidence of her incapacity lay in her inability to communicate. Buchanan 2004, stated that legal competence is specific to the task at hand. It requires the mental capacities to reason and deliberate, hold appropriate values and goals, appreciate one's circumstances, understand information one is given and communicate a choice. If the patient were found to be competent, then according to Michael Schiavo, she would be asking for treatment to be withheld and ongoing...
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