Thursday, March 31, 2005

Terri Schiavo has died

Terri Schiavo has died. Some will see that as a blessing, honoring her wishes and the wishes of her husband. Others will see this as a great tragedy. Her case will join a list of others -- Karen Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, etc -- which have helped to shape the laws regarding how we die in America, and the choices we have at the end of life. Interestingly, the previous cases were about families united to stop the life support. These cases helped establish the principle that there is a difference between killing and allowing to die. The Schiavo case was about a divided family, and what to do then. This case has raised so many issues that will take years perhaps to sort out _ issues of federalism and separation of powers and frameworks to settle family disputes. One issue that I'm writing about now -- for tomorrow's paper or for Sunday -- is what impact her case will have on the use of feeding tubes in America. Another big question to ask now that she's dead is how in fact did she die? Did she suffer? Did she die peacefully? There have been many who have said her death will be brutal and painful and awful. Was it? This is a different question from whether you think the tube should have been removed? That is another huge question that raises the fundamental meaning of life. This is a question about whether removing a feeding tube is a painful way to die. Blog on, folks. And see my remarks below. There is lots to talk about.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Enough. Enough. Enough. I don't want to talk about Jesse Jackson. Or the Schindlers. Or even Terri. Her story is sad and tragic, regardless of how it ends. Her life was cut short. We can all feel for her. I want to talk about what the Schiavo situation and story mean for the rest of us. Check your politics at the door. I believe the great questions in America today regarding end of life are these: Are people dying well, with their pain managed, their wishes honored? Should we be discussing the cost of treatments at the end of life, and whether costs should even be considered? Will we reach a point where they must be considered? What about all the people in beds next to Terri Schiavo, and in nursing homes around the country? What kind of care are they getting? Are they lonely and abandoned by society, or supported by the rest of us? Is there enough support for the caregivers, the nursing home aides, the people who have the biggest impact of all on the last hours, days and weeks of so many? Why is turnover among nursing home staff 70 or 80 percent annually? Is it possible to give tender care to people when resources are so tight? So many of the landmark end of life cases in America _ Quinlan, Cruzan, Schiavo _ are young women. Catholic women. But while they have a great impact on the law, the vast majority of people who die will do so after long lives, and long declines. My own father died last summer. Medicine served him so well. He got 10 extraordinary years of life _ quality years, wonderful years _ because of the best medical treatment in the world, nearly all of it paid for by medicare or his supplemental insurance. I'm a Baby Boomer. I'm wondering -- will I still be able to get such care when my time comes? Will I be able to afford it? I think these are the quesitons that need to be asked and answered. I'm new at blogging. This is an experiment for me. But these are the questions I'm interested in. I'm also interested in hearing personal stories, because I believe the best way to reach readers is through stories about honest experiences. Blog on, Baby. -- michael vitez

Friday, March 25, 2005

you are amazing

Momof22, I just took the time to carefully read your posting again. What a story. First, you are an incredible writer -- so clear, concise and articulate. Second, your story is such a powerful one. Send me your email address or call me next week. I'd love to know more about you. Maybe everyone on the blog would, too. Thanks for sharing. Read her comments (second from the bottom): MV
Wow. many of your comments are amazing. You folks are living every day what I write about. And it's clear that these situations are often so complex that it is hard to be black and white about things.

The story I'm writing about for Sunday is really whether artificial nutrition and hydration is accepted as a medical treatment, like any other medical treatment, or is it something different? And is there a struggle between people who believe in protecting life at all costs -- the sanctity of life -- and those who believe that autonomy is most important, that the ability to decide which treatments I want and don't want at the end of life is paramount. These are thorny issues. Wish me luck!

Archman, my heart goes out to you. I've spent a lot of time as a reporter in the ICU and in nursing homes writing about people at the end of life. it is a jarring thing. I am often amazed at the courage of people and compassion, but I'm also still surprised at how people often don't really understand what is happening, what doctors are telling them. The language is all so foreign to people. I think when all the parties get together in a family meeting, things often become clearer and get resolved. Thanks for sharing.... Read archman's comments:

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Welcome to our discussion

The Terri Schiavo case has stirred some strong emotions in all of us. We've set up this forum to give you the opportunity to discuss the issue. Which is more important _ the sanctity of life or quality of life? Are they in conflict with one another? Even though the law is clear that artificial nutrition and hydration is a medical treatment, just like blood transfusions or kidney dialysis, why is this so hard for people to accept? I have been writing about this issue for a long time. I'm happy to answer questions if I can, or share my thoughts. I'm also interested in hearing from people who are facing these difficult decisions. I learned long ago that the best way to reach readers, to help them understand, is by telling them stories of real people. -- michael vitez