Monday, April 24, 2006

What I’ve Learned from Terri Schiavo

This evening, before dinner, I spent two hours in discussion about the legal and bioethical arguments surround the Terri Schiavo case. For all of the discussion and controversy surrounding Schiavo’s case, what has become abundantly clear to me, above and beyond any question about whether the right thing (legally or ethically) was done in Terri’s case, is that end-of-life decisions are something that must be faced before that time comes.

Of course I understand that, in some cases and for some people, to expect advance planning on this topic is unlikely. Unfortunately there are those in life who die young or who have more immediate problems to consider, such as feeding themselves or their families. And, for these reasons, as well as for others, the issues that Terri Schiavo’s case raised to the level of national consciousness are indisputably important ones that must be carefully considered.

But for those of us with the dual luxuries of health and leisure – and I can only assume that most, if not all, readers of this blog fall into that category - we have the ability, and the responsibility, to avoid situations like Schiavo’s by making end-of-life decisions on our own behalf; and making them well in advance. In so doing we can avoid the uncertainty, and the type of gut-wrenching decisions, that tore apart the Schiavo family.

Tonight, shortly after I concluded the discussion on Terry Schiavo, I learned that my grandfather had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. My grandfather has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for over a decade and, according to his doctor, in his current deteriorated condition attempting to treat the pneumonia, even if successful, would leave him dependant on life-sustaining technologies of some sort. I'm thankful that, within my family, there is no confusion over what is to be done next. My grandfather and my grandmother discussed this scenario years ago – with each other and with their children. Though I’m saddened, and though I miss my grandfather more acutely today than yesterday, I am happy for him in a way. I am thankful that he made his wishes clearly known and that they will be obeyed. Most of all, I am proud: he lived a full and admirable life, and a long life as well – and his sun is now setting.

We should all of us be so fortunate in our own lives.

[Note: For those seeking information on advance directives and living wills, Caring Connections offers comprehensive information on the subject, along with official forms (available as .pdfs) for all fifty states.]

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