The Right to Die

I was discussing the Terri Schiavo case with my daughter on the way to look at yet another bird and buy a binder and some note cards. I was able to rearrange, revise, and refine what I just wrote in a comment to make a more coherent argument as to what I think about the right to die.

  1. I should have the right to refuse medical treatment, even if I would die without it. Say I have a gunshot wound and will die from loss of blood unless I get an operation and blood transfusions. I should be able to say no and die, if that’s my wish.
  2. If I’m incapacitated, my wife should have the right to decide whether I receive medical treatment, even if I would die without it. Suppose that by the time I get to the hospital, I’ve lost so much blood that I’m unconscious. Then my wife should be able to decide whether I get necessary medical treatment.
  3. If my wife has caused my incapacitation, she should not have the right to decide whether I receive medical treatment. If I show up at the hospital with a gunshot wound, in shock, and my wife, with powder burns on her hands tells the ER that I shouldn’t receive any treatment, please don’t treat this solely as a right to die situation.

It’s all very simple. But it gets muddy in the application.

What does it mean to be “incapacitated”? Is someone who can respond to questions incapacitated? If I can respond “intelligently,” I don’t want someone else deciding whether I receive medical treatment. But what if the responses appear to be nonsense? I saw a video of Terri Schiavo responding but it doesn’t necessarily show any intelligence behind the noises. I read an argument that Terri has not received any speech therapy and that we should wait six months for therapy to see whether she could respond. That seems excessive. What about blinking? If she can respond to a yes/no question, why not just ask if she wants to have her feeding tube reinserted? If she can’t respond in some volitional manner now, what will speech therapy do?

What about the arguments that Michael has in some way caused Terri’s condition? I hope the state has sufficiently investigated these allegations. I don’t have any confidence that this has occurred. I am relieved that Michael’s attorney said a full autopsy will be performed upon Terri’s death. Maybe we can also lay to rest the allegations of abuse evidenced by broken bones.

Notice that the government plays no role in my view of right to die other than to maybe determine why I am incapacitated (if I am) and not allow my wife to refuse my medical treatment should she be the cause.

I have a friend who has chosen me to communicate her wishes regarding medical treatment, should she become incapacitated. She just re-emailed her documents to me and we’re going to have lunch to discuss them in detail. I want to make sure that I fully understand her wishes now, while she has the ability to talk about them.

This last week, my wife and I attempted to talk about what my wishes would be. She works as a respiratory therapist and has had the difficult task of “unplugging” patients. She has seen death firsthand as well as families who refuse to accept its inevitability. I must confess, the discussion was difficult and ended with me saying I didn’t want to talk about it, that I was comfortable with whatever she would decide at the time.

Although I can’t easily discuss my own death, I can delegate the decision to my wife for a couple of reasons. First, I married well. My wife would not make a decision that wasn’t “for the best.” Second, I know that this life isn’t the end. Although this life is a gift from God, I have the promise of eternal life. Clinging to this life serves no purpose.

I hope you take this opportunity to discuss what you’d want done should you be in Terri’s situation. I pray that you come to realize that death isn’t the end.

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Brent Logan

Engineer. Lawyer. WordPress geek. Bicycle commuter. Blood donor. Snapshooter extraordinaire.