Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Another Schiavo Case?

The right wing media has been awash in the story of Mae Magouirk, an 81 year old woman who was checked into a hospice by her granddaughter, Beth Gaddy, who claimed she had power of attorney and requested for her not to receive any nourishment or treatment. This followed a recent heart problem which had Magouirk in intensive care. Other family members intervened and went to court to insure that the woman would receive nourishment and treatment, arguing that she was not terminally ill, not in a coma, and that her own living will specified that nourishment was only to be withheld if she was comatose or vegitative. Now, operating under the assumption that what is being reported in the Worldnutdaily is correct – and I know that’s risky given their penchant for reporting false and exaggerated stories – there are some major differences between this and the Schiavo case that demand a different result.

First, if the grandmother really has a living will that says that nourishment and treatment are only to be withdrawn if she is in a coma or vegitative state, and she’s not in there currently, then that really is the end of the issue. The patient’s wishes, clearly stated in writing, are all that matter. Second, if Gaddy really did check her in to a hospice knowing what her living will said, and misrepresented her power of attorney (the article states that the hospice withdrew treatment based on that authority, but it turns out that she only had a financial power of attorney, not medical power of attorney), it is not unreasonable for her to be brought up on charges, perhaps even attempted murder. The hospice that she was admitted to should also be investigated for failing to follow the law.

WND is now reporting that the woman has been airlifted from the hospice to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center, where she is being given nourishment, cardiac and neurological attention. If the facts being reported are correct (and yes, that’s a big “if”), that is the correct result. But people should bear in mind the critical distinctions between this case and Terri Schiavo. Every relevant issue is the opposite of what it was with Terri – she’s not vegetative or even comatose, and her clearly expressed wishes were to be kept alive and treated in this circumstance. If those things are true, then I don’t care who it is who wants to change it – a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, or the government – the case is closed. And anyone who seeks to have the patient’s expressed wishes violated is guilty, if not of breaking the law, at least of moral bankruptcy.

Comments

  1. #1 Lisa SG
    April 11, 2005

    I wonder what you think of this (old–2001) article, which states that some California hospitals are denying what they consider to be “futile” care for the elderly (even when they would want it, according to their families), where futile has a non-standard meaning and includes curative treatment, on the grounds that they wouldn’t live that long anyway, although they are not immediately ill with anything that would take their life. the article is at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/12/02/IN221010.DTL

    I am not sure an individual of 80 who might live 2 more years (or even 20, if they’re lucky) shouldn’t receive aggressive intervention IF THEY WANT IT, just as a 40 year old with a 2 year cancer prognosis should be entitled to aggressive intervention. Isn’t some sort of assessment of quality of life being made by someone or some group (probably old-phobic health professionals) who have little knowledge of what the person’s actual quality of life is? If I’m lucky enough to live to 80 without dementia or other major disability, I plan to read books as much as I can…that would be plenty of quality of life for me, I don’t need to be young to enjoy myself.

    That’s why I’ve been somewhat concerned about euthanasia. I don’t think we necessarily have to slip down this slope: but we should be careful to make sure we don’t.

  2. #2 Matthew
    April 11, 2005

    Big mistake Ed. You should never start off with the postulate that WND is reporting accurately.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    April 11, 2005

    I wonder what you think of this (old–2001) article, which states that some California hospitals are denying what they consider to be “futile” care for the elderly (even when they would want it, according to their families), where futile has a non-standard meaning and includes curative treatment, on the grounds that they wouldn’t live that long anyway, although they are not immediately ill with anything that would take their life.

    I think this gets us into an entirely different question than the one in the Schiavo case, and I don’t think it has anything to do with a “slippery slope” from one to the other. The critical moral and legal distinction between the two is obvious – the patient’s wishes. There are four types of euthenasia possible – voluntary and involuntary, passive and active. I am an advocate of voluntary euthenasia, regardless of whether it is passive or active; I am opposed to involuntary euthenasia, regardless of whether it is passive or active. And I strongly agree with you that it is important to avoid confusing the two or moving from one to the other. The way we do that is by allowing only voluntary euthenasia and never allow it to be involuntary.

  4. #4 Cheeto
    April 11, 2005

    Ed –

    If WorldNutDaily said that the sun is going to rise in the morning – I would get a second opinion.

    Cheeto

  5. #5 raj
    April 11, 2005

    If those things are true, then I don’t care who it is who wants to change it – a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, or the government – the case is closed. And anyone who seeks to have the patient’s expressed wishes violated is guilty, if not of breaking the law, at least of moral bankruptcy.

    Don’t be too kind. It wouldn’t be just moral bankruptcy. It would be fraud–fraud in the inducement–at the very least, and possibly murder.

    You’ll be reading stories like this for a number of months. There were a number of stories in the press about murders of gay people in the months after Matt Shepherd was murdered in 1998–but you’d have to go looking for them now. There are always a number of stories in the press–regardless of the veracity of the press) after a well-publicized death. Always. Particularly when someone wants to get some political benefit over placing the story. Or, in the case of WorldNutDaily, money.

    Not a lot of mention has been made in the WorldNutDaily-style press of the case of Barbara Howe. She’s an elderly lady in advanced stages of Lateral Sclerosis (ALS–Lou Gehrig’s disease) at Boston’s Mass General Hospital. A recent report mentioned that the doctors there wanted to take her off artificial life support, because they believed that continuing her on it was cruel. The daughter, who had a medical power of attorney, objected. There was no financial issue. But they worked out a deal–which is why you probably haven’t read much about it–whereby the lady would be kept on the machines until sometime in June. That would allow the daughter to reconcile herself to her mother’s fate. They’d take her off the machines. And let nature take its course. After the lady dies, the daughter and the other relatives can bury her, they can grieve, and then they can get on with their lives.

  6. #6 Reed A. Cartwright
    April 11, 2005

    I was reading a thread on BaptistBoard about this. From some of the links dug up by people on that board the WND article has some issues.

    http://www.baptistboard.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php/topic/1/3149.html

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    April 11, 2005

    I was reading a thread on BaptistBoard about this. From some of the links dug up by people on that board the WND article has some issues.

    It appears from the statement of the nephew, who is the primary source of the story, that the WND, predictably, got a few things wrong. But in this case, it appears to be more a question of exaggeration than outright falsehoods. For instance, she was indeed without nourishment for many days, but this was primarily because they had her heavily sedated due to pain and she couldn’t eat on her own. There certainly should have been a feeding tube or, at the very least, a nutritional fluid IV at that point. It appears to me from the reports that she should never have been taken to hospice in the first place, she should have been taken to a nursing home or medical facility. And the hospice should never have accepted her. She was not terminally ill, she was not comatose, she was not vegetative, and the niece did not have the legal authority to make medical decisions for her at the time she was admitted, particularly decisions that contradict her living will. What she needed was medical care, not hospice care.

    The judge accepted a compromise offered by the nephew’s attorney, asking 3 doctors to evaluate her condition and prognosis. As a result, she has been transferred to a hospital and is receiving medical care. Which is what her niece should have done with her in the first place, it seems to me.