Ethical Principles Violated
In 1990, Terri Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest leading to a persistent vegetative state. Over the next 15 years, her case received international attention as her husband and parents argued over how to fulfill Terri's end-of-life wishes. Although tragic, the plight of Terri Schiavo provides a valuable case study. The conflicts and misunderstandings surrounding her situation offer important lessons in medicine, law, and ethics. Despite media saturation and intense public interest, widespread confusion lingers regarding the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, the judicial processes involved, and the appropriateness of the ethical framework used by those entrusted with Terri Schiavo's care (Fine, 2005) On March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo (born December 3, 1963) died -- the final complication of a cardiac arrest on February 25, 1990. Her death was preceded by the withdrawal of artificially administered hydration and nutrition through a feeding tube. Prior to her death, Terri's saga was the focus of intense medical, ethical, and legal debates in the United States and elsewhere. These debates were characterized by confusion about the facts, ethical principles, and laws relevant to the case. Much of the confusion revolved around a number of ethical and legal questions including: Is it ethically and legally permissible to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments from patients who do not want the treatments? Is withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments the same as physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia? Is artificially administered hydration and nutrition a medical treatment or mandatory care akin to bathing? What were Terri's values, preferences, and goals regarding life-sustaining treatments? Several issues raised and argued that the central question of the Terri Schiavo case is a struggle between sanctity of life versus quality of life (Grossenbacher, 2007). Expressed as an ethical principle,...
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