Who has right to decide that a life is complete?

Question Of The Month

November 29, 2003

Q: In the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida law ordered the reconnection of the feeding tubes that keep her alive. If you were in a persistent vegetative state like Ms. Schiavo, would you want to be kept alive indefinitely? Who would you want to decide when treatment should stop?

In 1991, my 24-year old daughter was bitten by a mosquito and stricken with Eastern equine encephalitis. After the disease ran its course, she ended up with severe brain damage. She is currently in a nursing home and is totally dependent on others for her care.

Like Terri Schiavo, she cannot speak and is tube-fed. There is no hope of any recovery. She is virtually bed-ridden, every movement causing terrible pain because her muscles have atrophied over the years. I will never get used to her screams of pain whenever her diaper has to be changed or she is moved in any way.

Because of her relatively young age (she is 36) and because she is otherwise in good health, she could live for several decades in this condition.

When I visit, I always try to be cheerful and try my best to get a smile or a chuckle from her. I'm always looking into her eyes and wondering if she remembers who I am. My mother's heart wants to believe she does recognize me, her children and other family members who still visit; however, there are times when I'm not so sure.

I have put her fate in God's hands, but there are times when I cannot help but wish she would have died. It would be so much easier knowing she was at peace with Jesus rather than enduring a living hell on Earth. How many more years will she live to suffer like this?

In my heart of hearts, I do not think that my daughter would have wanted to live the rest of her life in this condition. If I were able to do so, I would want to end her suffering.

Delane Morris

Edgewood

Circumstances such as the tragic case of Terri Schiavo can be avoided if everyone would prepare a living will and notify their friends and family of their wishes.

If the Schiavo case doesn't impress upon everyone the importance of such a document, I don't know what will.

My mother prepared such a document long before she became ill, not knowing that it would become the best gift she ever gave me.

It made the difficult decisions for me. There was no question as to her wishes, and it avoided the sort of spectacle that the Schiavo case has created.

I think my mother put it all into perspective when she, a very devout Catholic all her life, said when she was transferred to hospice: "I think Dr. Kevorkian was right."

Sandy Harrison

Westminster

If I were in a coma, I would want to be kept alive indefinitely. There is always hope while one lives.

No one knows for sure what goes on in someone's mind when he or she is in such a state. The mind could still be functioning, even if brain monitors show no activity.

One could be blissfully dreaming in a constant state of happiness.

One could even be conscious and hearing people but be unable to communicate. I wouldn't want someone discontinuing my life support if I knew they were doing so.

A medical breakthrough could happen at any time. What if someone had given up and the cure or treatment became ready the next day?

I wouldn't want someone agonizing over the decision to end my life. No one should end a life. No one should have to make such a choice.

Joseph W. DeBolt Jr.

Greenbelt

I feel fortunate to reside in Maryland where a persistent vegetative state (PVS) is classified with other terminal conditions for which surrogates may withhold or withdraw life-sustaining therapies such as tube feedings.

If I were in a PVS, I have requested that I be given hospice care for pain and symptom management with attention to spiritual and emotional issues of life closure for myself and my family.

Patients at the end of life are usually neither hungry nor thirsty. Feeding them by artificial means can actually produce discomfort through infection, accumulation of fluid, and breathing difficulty.

We would do well to learn from the Schiavo case and let our loved ones know our wishes so that they can act on them if and when that is necessary.

Rita Mastroianni

Baltimore

I consider my life my most valuable possession. Without it, none of the other things I treasure would be mine. For this reason, I want to stay alive as long as possible.

As long as there is someone who cares about me and who is willing to pray for a miracle, I wish to be allowed to live. Miraculous recoveries have occurred before.

When I become too much of a burden to my loved ones, however, I would hope that they would have the courage to let me go.

As for the person(s) whom I would want to decide whether I live or die, I would choose first my parents. As with all good parents, they gave me pure, unselfish love. But since my parents are gone, I would place myself in my husband's hands.

I only hope that he wouldn't let himself become a martyr and sacrifice his life for mine.

Mary F. Kollner

Baltimore

I would not want to be kept alive on a machine.

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