Terri Schiavo: A Lesson in Advance Directives

I’m not going to get into the intricacies of the Terri Schiavo case simply because I’m not privy to even a fraction of the information available to the individuals, legal counsel and judges involved. I, like you, know nothing more than what is being reported by an often unreliable news media with a thirst for sensationalism that sometimes outweighs the quest for facts.

Instead, I’m going to focus on one single, solitary aspect of this case and this ordeal: the next of kin.

Every state in the Union has some form of ‘Next of Kin’ (NOK) law or designation on the books. It is used to determine the hierarchy of who is allowed to make decisions for another person if that person becomes mentally incapacitated.

Although each state’s NOK designation may vary slightly, the general order is spouse, adult child, parent, adult sibling and finally legal guardian. In Terri’s case, the legal NOK is indisputably her husband Michael. All decisions regarding Terri’s care are to be made by him and him alone.

It is not my place to decide if Michael is good or bad or whether or not he’s putting Terri’s needs or his own as a top priority; all that matters is that he is the legal NOK and any decisions regarding Terri’s care default to him.

Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand where Terri’s parents are coming from. In their eyes, Terri is, in their opinion, alive and responsive and Michael is essentially sentencing her to death.

The cold, hard fact, though, is that it is indeed Michael’s decision.
Terri’s case underlines the need for Advance Directives. In layman’s terms, Advance Directives are simply a legal document outlining whether or not the person wishes to be resuscitated in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest and which efforts the person would want the medial professionals to use while attempting to save or preserve the person’s life. In short, they describe when everyone should just stand back and let the person die.

Terri has no Advance Directives so the decision simply falls squarely onto the shoulders of the Next of Kin. Don’t get me wrong, though, I think Michael is being an irresponsible prick. If any doubts exist as to the condition of a patient or the patient’s wishes regarding life support we should always, always, always err on the side of life. In other words, if there is even a slight chance that Terri is still in there somewhere, she should not have life support removed.

28. March 2005 by Chris
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