Terri Schiavo suffered a cardiac arrest in 1990. Her brain was deprived of oxygen and she lapsed into a “persistent vegetative state.” That was fourteen years ago. Let her live or let her die? Who has the right to decide on Terri Schiavo’s fate? While this is being debated, Terri’s life hangs on the line. The tube that had allowed her to be fed was removed last Friday. She is not allowed to be nourished or hydrated. Dying by starvation and dehydration is a painfully slow process. It will take anything from two to four weeks for Terri to die.
One can only speculate why, after being awarded more than US$1 million in a malpractice suit that provided for Terri’s lifetime care, her husband, Michael Schiavo, is unrelenting in his pursuit to end her life. According to Michael, on several occasions before her cardiac arrest, Terri had indicated to him that she would not want to continue living should she be in a condition she currently is in. It was exposed that this was not revealed by Michael during the malpractice proceedings.
Terri’s case brought memories of another painful episode of Mum’s last few days to the fore. When she lapsed into a coma and could not be fed or take her medicine orally, I decided not to send her back to the hospital. I believe that was her wish and I was determined to fulfil it.
“If I die, I want to die at home,” she had pleaded to me at the hospital. “Please take me home.”
My decision was based on those words. To take her back to the hospital and get a feeding tube or an intravenous drip inserted would have prolonged her life, for how long I do not know. But that was not what she had wanted. I stopped feeding her and stopped her medication. What was I supposed to do when she was no longer responsive to all stimuli short of sending her back to the hospital?
Friends that I consulted had their reservations regarding my decision. I could sense from the hesitation in their voice. However, they advised me to hydrate Mum, or at the very least keep her lips wet. Following their advice, Mum’s lips were kept moist with a cotton ball every half hour.
When Peter came, he insisted that I feed Mum. He could not bear the thought of Mum going hungry. He crushed the tablets and mixed it with honey and fed Mum, bit by bit. She had problems swallowing. It was also a slow process because the medicine tasted awful even with the honey.
In a way, I am glad that Peter was adamant that Mum be fed. It was my mistake in not persisting to feed her. I made the decision to stop because the milk that was fed to her all dribbled out from the corner of her mouth. Eventually Mum learned to swallow. However, all oral medication was discontinued. The only medicine administered was rectal suppositories for her persistent fever.
That all happened within a frame of two days. I have no guilt in not sending Mum back to the hospital. I truly believe that was what she had wanted. As her only son, it was my duty to comply with her last request. She wanted the dignity to die at home. She died at home, surrounded by loved ones. I truly believe that was what she had wanted.
Decisions like these can be very painful and difficult to make. On one hand, we cannot bear to see our loved one’s suffering prolonged but on the other to let them go is one thing that we are dreadfully reluctant to do. Ultimately, it all depends on what one’s spiritual beliefs are. Do we subscribe to a religion that disallows euthanasia? Do we believe that we are at liberty to decide on our own fate and that of other’s?
Terri is a Roman Catholic. So are her parents. The Roman Catholic Church is totally against any from of euthanasia. This should have been taken into account when the judge gave the order to remove the feeding tube. The other question is whether Michael Schiavo or Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri’s parents, are in a better position to decide for Terri; and now whether the courts or the politicians can decide on that too. What has the worth of her life become when it can be decided by another human?
Last night, while we were talking about Terri’s plight, I asked Wuan, “What will you do if I am in a similar situation?”
“I don’t know,” was her terse reply. “What do you want?”
“My faith disallows euthanasia,” I continued, although I was acutely aware that she was getting uneasy.
“That is what we have to abide by then.”
I left it at that. She understood what should be done. My stand was clear. I did not want to pursue that issue with her any further.