Saturday, March 19, 2005

I am in Conflict Today

Do any of you remember about Karen Ann Quinlan? Her legal battle was back in 1975 and was one of the very first "right to die" cases (at least it was the one who set a lot of the legal precedents of such cases.) I remember the anguish of that time. Karen Ann was removed from the ventilator, but did not die until 10 years later in 1985. There are excerpts of her case here.

In it is stated:
The doctor found Karen 4 days after her incident "comatose with evidence of decortication, a condition relating to derangement of the cortex of the brain causing a physical posture in which the upper extremities are flexed and the lower extremities are extended. She required a respirator to assist her breathing....Dr. Morse testified that Karen has been in a state of coma, lack of consciousness, since he began treating her. He explained that there are basically two types of coma, sleep-like unresponsiveness and awake unresponsiveness. Karen was originally in a sleeplike unresponsive condition but soon developed "sleep-wake" cycles, apparently a normal improvement for comatose patients occurring within three to four weeks. In the awake cycle she blinks, cries out and does things of that sort but is still totally unaware of anyone or anything around her."

In other words, she did not respond to stimuli, she did not track motion or movement. She did not laugh or attempt any communication. Her feeding tube was not removed, the ventilator was removed and she died in 10 years after contracting pneumonia. There are more websites of interest:

Brain Death and Brain Injury Resources
On Death and Dying
Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation

Last week, a member of our congregation passed away after he and his family had made the decision for no heroic measures to be attempted. I personally signed the DNR for my father two days before he died. I have a living will and my husband has a Power of Attorney for Health Care for me, and I one for him. Heroic measures were used on my mother, without my knowledge and to no avail. What is the most disturbing about Terry Schiavo is 1) is it truly her wish? Her husband testified that they had a "conversation." What does this really mean? and 2) in some of the videos I have seen, and in my uneducated humble opinion, she does not seem to be in a persistant vegatative state. It appears in some of them that she is laughing *with* her father, responding to music, following objects with her eyes -- I have seen some students in special needs classes in my previous career as a teacher who seem less aware than Terry. Should we allow these persons to die as well from starvation and dehydration? Is the cognative ability of a 12 month old "good enough?" Or a two year old? or 5 year old? Where do we draw the line?

I don't want heroic measure taken on my behalf, if there is little or no hope. However, how much of my cognition do I have to lose before I lose "quality of life?" This is just too disturbing. I have watched the videos and I am disturbed.

God, forgive us. Allow us to affirm life and not deny it.
LORD, look down from heaven, behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant. Look upon her with the eyes of thy mercy, give her comfort and sure confidence in thee, defend her from the danger of the enemy, and keep her in perpetual peace and safety; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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