HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Tale of Two Mothers

What seems mostly lacking from the response of Congress to the ordeal of Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers over his nontreatment decision for his wife, Terri, is recognition that these decisions are, sadly but inevitably, daily events around the country.  In round numbers, there are 2.5 million deaths in the U.S. each year (see Table 99).  Eighty percent of those occur in an institutional setting, and eighty percent of those deaths (or roughly two-thirds of the national total) occur after an explicit decision to withhold or withdraw life-saving or life-sustaining treatment.  State laws, similar if not identical to the Florida law under which Michael Schiavo made his decisions for his wife, lay out the ground rules for such decisions: who can decide, what are the standards for such decisions, what combination of physical and mental impairment will trigger the process, which treatments can be refused and which ones cannot.  The comments of Tom DeLay and many others in the House last weekend during the debate over S. 686 -- if taken at face value and not as mere political posturing -- betrayed their surprise over the legal developments in the states over the past 20 years and a surprising ignorance of the difficult choices that are made every day in the legislators' home states.  They might start their remedial education on this subject with an article in today's L.A. Times about the decisions of two mothers whose children lie in a persistent vegetative state -- no demonizing, no moralizing, no grandstanding, and no litigating, just quiet, dignified parental decision making we all hope will never come to us as parents.  [tm]

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