The right to die
AS IT APPEARS - Lorenzo Paradiang Jr. () - November 1, 2005 - 12:00am
Tomorrow being All Souls' Day, it's but timely to dwell on the controversial issue of the "right to die"…

None in memory had one ever unconsciously found herself in the proverbial eye of the long raging storm over the tempestuous issue of the right to die, than the poor, pretty Terri Schiavo of Pinellas Park, Florida, USA.

For 15 years when Terri was in a "persistent vegetative state" - not brain dead - her tragic drama involved a wide cast of protagonists in the stormy plot. As principals, husband Michael wanted to grant his wife the right to die as allegedly wished by her, versus Terri's parents Robert and Mary Schindler who wanted to prolong her life with feeding tube. The Schiavo debate also seared President Bush and the US Congress for encroaching on Florida state's rights; the US civil government dabbling in a justiciable issue for the judiciary; the parameters that religion has in matters partaking of politics; and, the extent of the legal intervention in a matter strictly personal.

Terri's case started in 1990 with her brain damage during a cardiac arrest due to potassium imbalance for bulimia. She came out of a coma without regaining consciousness, defined as "persistent vegetative state". She was "awake but not aware", but still "capable" of reflexes of crying, smiling, or eyes blinking, without conscious awareness.

As court-appointed guardian, Michael sued in 1992 Terri's doctor for malpractice, and was awarded $300T for himself and $750T for Terri which Michael's lawyer claimed to have been spent over the years for Terri's care, medical and legal bills. In 1993, Michael and Terri's parents had a falling out over their daughter's care, but Michael attributed it to the Schindlers' interest in the malpractice money.

Interestingly, before the impasse, the Schindlers had egged Michael to take a woman named Jodie Centonze who later gave birth to two daughters with Michael.

On experts' advice in 1994, with Terri beyond recovery, Michael authorized her doctors not to resuscitate Terri in case of a heart attack. In 1998, he petitioned the court for removal of Terri's feeding tube, with the Schindlers' vehement opposition.

Florida Judge George Greer granted the petition in 2000, but stayed execution to allow the Schindlers to appeal.

The long legal odyssey passed 40 judges - from Florida state court to the circuit court of appeals, and the federal courts; and for six times reached the US Supreme Court. All upheld the order of Judge George Greer. The seven-year battle polarized the Americans on the right to die.

Seventy percent of the Americans favored the right to die when polled, with most on "wake up call" to draw their "living will" to avoid any artificial life support system in case of similar medical state as Terri's 15-year indignity.

The right to die had earlier cropped up in USA when an elderly doctor - his name escapes recall - became famous, or notorious, as he abetted the death of many terminal patients by advising them and/or their closest kin how they should go about with "mercy killing". He was careful though not to put himself squarely within the ambit of crime, either by inducement, or as an accessory. What he has to answer for is the ethical and moral issue.

The sensitive question of the right to die caters some food for thought. To those whose religiosity is inflexible and brooks no wavering, there's only one way of dying, that is, the so-called natural death. Any other way is, to them, sinfully violative of the fundamental religious tenets.

To those who favor "mercy killing", but short of indiscriminate euthanasia, when a terminal patient is excruciatingly in physical pain and beyond recovery, or one clinically alive only by tubular artificial sustenance, they argue that such patient be allowed to die with dignity.

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