Terri Schiavo Debate Prompts Pro-Lifers to Protect Themselves

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 3, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Terri Schiavo Debate Prompts Pro-Lifers to Protect Themselves

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
November 3, 2003

Pinellas Park, FL (LifeNews.com) — Pro-life groups have always urged people to protect themselves from a denial of lifesaving medical treatment. However, the debate surrounding Terri Schiavo has dramatically re-emphasized the need to make the desire for appropriate medical care known beforehand.

Wesley Smith, a leading pro-life attorney who specializes in bioethics issues, says people should make their wishes known beforehand.

"I think people need to create advanced directives in which they say, ‘I don’t want to be dehydrated to death and have my food taken away if I become cognitively disabled,’" Smith explained. "We always hear about doing away with treatment, but they can also be used proactively to say, ‘Look, don’t take any actions to intentionally kill me.’"

Nancy Valko, of Nurses for Life and a leading monitor of end-of-life issues, says the need is great because many hospitals are adopting "medical futility policies." As in the case of Jason Childress in Virginia, doctors and hospital officials are more quick to give up hope on treating a patient and deny further lifesaving medical treatment.

Valko also says the right document is important since assisted suicide advocates "scaring people into signing such directives to prevent even basic medical care as a ‘necessity.’"

One such document is the "Will to Live," a legal form created by the National Right to Life Committee.

"Everyone should fill out one," says Burke Balch, NRLC’s director of medical ethics. The document "makes clear one’s desire not to be starved or denied life-saving treatment if unable to make health care decisions for oneself."

"While it may still be necessary to battle doctors and hospitals who do not want to give life-saving care, the Will to Live legally eliminates any question about the
desires of the patient," Balch explains.

Another pro-life group says a second option is available for pro-life people.

The International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide says it has been deluged will calls from pro-life people looking for legal documents to best protect their medical wishes.

Rita Marker, the group’s director, tells them all: "Every person, from the age of 18 on, should have an advance directive."

Marker said many people are aware of living wills, but a durable power of attorney for health care is a much better decision.

"(With this document) you name a trusted individual to make decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself either temporarily or permanently," Marker told Focus on the Family in an interview. "With a living will, what you’re essentially doing is giving all authority to an unknown physician."

The durable power of attorney document means the patient’s exact thoughts are more clear and desire for their life to be protected is better understood.

Whatever you decide to do, Balch says it is better than leaving yourself to the whims of the medical system. There, some doctors and medical facilities may rush to judgment by saying your quality of life is too low to let you live.

"Perhaps not until the publicity about this case have large numbers of Americans recognized how deep and widespread is the commitment to the ‘quality of life’ ethic among doctors, hospitals, and the courts," Balch concluded.

Related web sites:
Durable power of attorney form – https://www.internationaltaskforce.org/pmdd.htm
NRLC "Will to Live" – https://www.nrlc.org/euthanasia/willtolive