I've been watching with interest the Terri Schiavo case, and it has caused me to think a lot about a person's right to die, and whether or not they have such a right.
When my Grandma was ill last month, she had just filled out a Living Will in January, and I was very glad to see that she had made her wishes clear, and specifically that she had done it so recently.
In my Gram's case, she was 94 -- and asked that we not artificially feed her -- that means nothing through a tube or an IV.
When she had a stroke several years ago, it affected her ability to swallow, and over the past few years that swallowing ability had gone downhill, until she aspirated some liquid in her lungs and ultimately got aspiration pneumonia.
By the time the nursing home took her to the hospital, the doctors hooked her up to an IV with antibiotics, but did not feed her due to her wishes made clear in the Living Will. She bounced back for about 24 hours, and asked for food, and she ate very little before she took another turn for the worse. After almost a week into this ordeal, she passed away when all the hospital staff could do was to make her comfortable with morphine.
I have a distant cousin who had flown into town during that weekend before Gram died, and at one point she told my Grandma to "hang on". My sister, who was present for this, asked me later "What should she hang on for?"
I know in the Schialvo case, the woman is much younger, and the parents are fighting to keep her alive while her guardian/husband is asking for her to be unhooked from food. The legal wranglings about this case make me pause to think -- what would I want?
I can tell you one thing: If I had told my husband that I didn't want to be kept on tubes, I would be proud of him for trying to see to it that my wishes were granted. As much as my Mom or someone else might try to see it differently, if I were in that woman's shoes, I can't say that living a life of brain death in a nursing home would be my idea of a life.
Clearly, if Terri Schiavo were in a position to say what she wanted right now, she would -- instead, she only has her husband to fight for her wishes.
It is so important that people make their needs known. But more importantly -- and a greater issue I think -- is that we need to hold our lawmakers accountable when they try to interject their beliefs into our lives. If I want everything done to save me, and the doctors think it's fruitless, is it the lawmaker's job to say "No, she should die because she's too much a burden on the system"? I think not. In the same way, I think a person should have a right to say they don't want to be force fed to be kept alive.