The Terri Schiavo Case
The sad case of Terri Schiavo brings important medical-ethical issues to the fore. But this is not a hard case. As a general principle, when there is reasonable doubt about an incapacitated person's wishes regarding life-support and when someone is willing to pay for continued support, the presumption should be in favor of life and a spouse should not be able to terminate it. In this case, there is no written proof that Terri Schiavo expressed a wish not to be kept alive. All we have is her husband’s and one or two other persons' say so. Not good enough. In fact, according to Terri Schiavo’s parents, “When he [husband Michael Schiavo] promised the malpractice jury back in 1993 that he would take care of Terri for the rest of his life, Mr. Schiavo said nothing to the jury about Terri not wanting to be sustained on anything ‘artificial.’”
Not only was Michael Schiavo awarded money by a jury for her perpetual care, it has been reported that others have offered to pay for her life-support. Add to these facts that ten years ago Michael Schiavo commenced a romantic relationship with another woman whom he describes as his fiance, has had two children with that woman, and has announced that he has “moved on” with his life, and his wish to disconnect his wife from feeding and hydration tubes becomes suspect and indeed irrelevant. The Florida courts long ago should have excluded Michael Shiavo from the matter, declaring that he has a conflict of interest, and recognized Terri Schiavo’s parents as her guardians.
The fact is, we don't know what Terri Schiavo would say she wants if she could speak for herself. But there should be a presumption in favor of preserving life unless that presumption is overcome by an advance directive.
It might be argued that in her condition, Terri Schiavo is no longer a person and thus has no interests. But what is the difference between a former person (non-person) and a severely impaired person? Does the desired disposition dictate which term we use? Language is often more prescriptive than descriptive.