M4 Ethics Midterm Assignment – Terri Schiavo
Kristina A. Paxton (Shaarda)
1. Briefly outline the relevant medical facts contributing to Ms. Schiavo’s condition Terri Schiavo was home one evening and collapsed, causing severe hypoxia. The cause of the collapse was determined to be a heart attack, which it was theorized by her physicians to have been caused by a potassium deficiency. Because of the lack of oxygen during her collapse, she was left with severe brain damage. Her brain damage eventually left her in what is known as a persistent vegetative state (PVS). A permanent vegetative state is caused by a damaged cerebral hemisphere. That damage results in a loss of decision making and thinking ability. While Terri Schiavo was able to breathe on her own, she was unable to make any intentional movements, or see, even though her eyes were open. 2. Provide a brief summary of the legal history specific to Ms. Schiavo’s case. Include a discussion of the major past cases which influenced the issues in the case, focusing primarily on an individual’s right to refuse medical care. Terri Schiavo’s case went through a number of legal issues and battles, just to decide who had the right to decide whether she remained on life sustain support or not. The first time the case went to court was to resolve the dispute over her neurologic devastation and how her parents and her husband were interpreting her wishes regarding life support. The courts ruled in her husband’s favor, that Terri would not want continued life support and the decision was made to withdraw life sustaining treatment. Her parents appealed the decision to remove treatment and won, because their physicians stated that Terri was not in a permanent vegetative state. Her husband and parents again went to court regarding PVS, and once again her husband was granted the right to remove treatment. At this point I believe the legal system failed Terri Schiavo. I think that after going back and forth between PVS and not, the court system should have stopped allowing appeals, granted either her parents guardianship or her husband guardianship. Due to the fact that the courts allowed arguing between parents and spouse to continue, the appeals continued eventually involving the Governor of Florida, who attempted and passed an unconstitutional law called Terri’s Law. Once the Florida Supreme Court declared Terri’s Law unconstitutional, Terri Schiavo was finally allowed to have all life sustaining treatment removed, and died on 13 March 2005, fifteen years after she went into a coma. 3. Based on your readings and discussions in Module 4, discuss some of the legal considerations of relevance in Ms. Schiavo’s case. One of the most important considerations that was brought up in many of the articles regarding Terri Schiavo was the importance of advanced directives, living wills, and do not resuscitate orders. Even though those documents can be interpreted in a manner suiting live or die. It is still important to have them. Those documents let someone know that you have given thought to what you want to happen with your body, and how you want to end or not end your life as the case may be. There were many people that felt that if Terri Schiavo had had one or more of those documents the trials would never have had to happen, and the decision that her husband made to terminate care would have been respected much more readily. Having those documents would have also prevented the long drawn out trials both her husband and her parents had to have. Another important factor in this case was protecting those that have lost competence. Once Terri Schiavo was declared PVS, her husband was appointed to be her guardian. His ‘job’ was to make decision for Terri that were in her best interests, since she was no longer able to make those decision on her own. Most people go into a hospital knowing that they will be treated with...
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