Our View

Editorial Board

Patients should have right to die

The state of Florida has been forcing Terri Schiavo to stay alive. She hasn’t been able to do much more than breathe for the past 15 years after suffering severe brain damage in 1990 due to heart failure. According to Terri’s husband, Michael, she never wanted to be kept alive artificially. So in 2001, after 11 years of waiting, Michael had doctors remove her feeding tube — the only thing artificially prolonging her futile life.

The story should have ended there. But it didn’t.

Terri’s parents have fought endlessly to make sure that their daughter’s feeding tube remains, pouring food and water into a body that can’t — and will never — function again. They claim that Michael has no right to make this type of decision on behalf of his wife, even though he is her legal guardian.

A long legal battle ensued. The tube was removed for the first time for only two days before a court decision forced the reinsertion of the tube pending legal action filed by Terri Schiavo’s parents.

In the end, the courts ruled — again — that Michael had the legal right to remove the feeding tubes. In Oct. 2003, he did so, and Terri went without water for six days until, once again, someone with no legal right to do so, stepped in. Gov. Jeb Bush rushed a law into place allowing him to order the reinsertion of the tube. This was later ruledunconstitutional.

That brings us to this week. For the third time, a Florida judge has ruled that Michael Schiavo has standing to have his wife’s feeding tube pulled. If all goes as planned, it will be removed March 18 at 1 p.m.

Why should this woman, who obviously will never be able to function as a human being, have been forced to be kept alive by artificial means for this long? It was never her wish to live like this, her husband says.

The parents of a grown 41-year-old woman should not have more legal rights than her husband and legal guardian, and the Florida government’s political and moral opinions shouldn’t out-trump those of the individual.

This is one arena where the government and the courts need to butt out.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental human rights is the right to die. If people decide they no longer wish to suffer, or they don’t want to be kept alive by artificial means, then everyone should respect that decision.

If we start letting the parents of patients make all of their medical decisions, then we are infringing on spousal rights. Since Terri had no will, it was well within Michael Schiavo’s legal rights to allow his wife to die based on a verbal agreement they reached before she was inflicted with severe brain-damage.

How do we know they reached this agreement? We don’t. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can step in and make decisions for someone when there is a system of guardianship in place. The right to make these decisions belongs to the spouse first — not a government or a relative.

In the end, this decision was Terri’s.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.