Heart and Soul

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Recently I contacted my attorney about revising my Last Will and Testament. While I was in the mood, (unquestionably one must be in the mood to consider one’s own mortality) I also requested that he prepare for me a living will and a health care proxy. Having dealt with such issues for my own mother while she lie dying in a hospital, I was bound and determined not to leave my family in the same painful lurch.

A few days later in my attorney’s office I read over the defining documents with pen in hand, ready to sign. That is until I got to the last paragraph of the living will ---the part where the legalese defined life and death.
What threw me for a loop was a supplemental stipulation. A simple statement that explained if the medical community should declare me legally dead while simultaneously force feeding me, an appointed family member can request removal of the nutritional life line.

I sat back and read the statement again. And again. And once more, for good measure. I then looked at my attorney and blurted out, "I’m not signing this. If being on a respirator is the only way to make my heart and lungs function, then unquestionably I cannot survive on my own. I am basically dead. However, if I’m being forcibly fed, that feeding tube is not a machine artificially making my body operate. It’s nourishment. So disconnecting the tube, in effect, starves me to death and that’s wrong. I won’t allow it."

My attorney’s response was simple. "It’s your choice."

That fundamental right of choice is exactly what I believe is at the heart of the current controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo. Schiavo never took the time to legally make her own life and death choices. Now sadly, due to an unimagined medical tragedy she will never have that chance. Yet equally distressing is the fact that since her combative family members cannot agree on how to best handle this situation, a battery of lawyers, judges, congress people, media, everyday citizens, and even the President of the United States all believe they’re now somehow entitled or compelled to make the choice for her.

In my opinion, this tragedy turned international news story shouldn’t involve the media, it shouldn’t extend to unrelated strangers and it definitely shouldn’t be used for any sort of political posturing or gain. Rather Terri Schiavo’s tragedy should serve as a reminder for us all that we have a choice to bypass our inate human fear of death and clearly and legally state exactly how our loved ones should proceed in the worse case scenario.

Perhaps if as a result of this controversy more of us willingly step forward and make that choice, then Terri Schiavo’s death, however it happens, will not be totally in vain.
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