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Do you think people should have the right to refuse medical assistance near the end of their lives?

Asked at Hy-Vee, 3504 Clinton Parkway on December 13, 2004

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Photo of Tracy Broderick

“Yes. I just think it’s your right to choose. I’ve seen too many people suffering toward the end of their life.”

Photo of Jim Orr

“I certainly believe in individuals giving it some thought beforehand. People should be able to make certain choices about life assistance by creating a living will.”

Photo of Cheri Varvil

“Yes. When people have had a complete life and are in pain or their life is ending, they deserve to have some control over that. It increases the possibility of being able to die with dignity.”

Photo of Stephen Dickey

“Yes, as long as someone is not refusing it for them. As long as they can make the decision for themselves, they should be able to.”


lunacydetector 13 years, 4 months ago

ummm.....she's brain damaged, NOT brain dead. different thing entirely, which makes your argument moot.

western_kansas 13 years, 4 months ago

I'm not afraid of death! So long as I go peacefully in my sleep, in my own bed, at the age of 107, I'll be fine! Heck! I think I'll be looking forward to it by then!!

Au_contraire 13 years, 4 months ago

For this type of potential arrangement, the wording cannot be casual, like a conversation. Because of the emotional and controversial viewpoints others will inevitably have regarding, what I believe, should be a personal decision, an iron-clad legal document must be written and agreed upon much in advance of an individual's impending death.

As so, I must take a critical view of the question itself as posed in the LJW: "Do you think people should have the right to refuse medical assistance near the end of their lives?" The use of the word "right" is troubling most of all. A right assumes entitlement unless otherwise challenged, and this is not the way things work.

An individual must consult their personal/family physician well in advance of making a final decision, explain theirs and their families' positions regarding such a refusal and get it in writing and have all parties sign.

I'm not sure how copies are archived / doled out, but all the t's must be crossed and the i's dotted. Otherwise things fall into chaos near the end. And that's NOT the way to go.

PigFarmer 13 years, 4 months ago

Of course you have the right to refuse medical treatment at any time, as long as it is for yourself. You can make the decision easier on your family by making your wishes known prior to health problems or an accident. Also, you should use the law to your and your family's advantage by making up a living will, power of attorney for medical decisions and durable power of attorney.

Plan ahead, no matter what your age so you keep the courts out of the decisions and family from being torn apart.

Now withholding treatment and taking or ingesting something to cause death are different and should not be confused.

lunacydetector 13 years, 4 months ago

yes mr. cairo. go to florida.

i'm sure you are referring to the poor lady who has to be fed via a feeding tube. her husband took her to court (her husband who also has a girlfriend and two children with that girlfriend). he wanted to starve his poor wife to death, and the court obliged for awhile until the good governor stepped in. the husband wants his wife dead so he can collect the life insurance and he and his girlfriend and offspring can live a life in luxury.

greed, greed, greed.

mrcairo 13 years, 4 months ago

Only if you don't live in Florida where Governors like Jebby make the decision for you. That's what I'm for, more Government Intervention intruding on my personal choices.

These decisions must be made far in advance of ones mental demise.

Most medical institutions prolong death, not life.

remember_username 13 years, 4 months ago

Yes, everyone should have the right to refuse medical treatment for himself or herself as long as they are competent and capable of understanding the ramifications. It is a shame that legal documents are made necessary by the intrusion of family or physicians of (usually) good intentions. But that's the way it is - if you are unconscious consent is assumed unless a living will is on record. So discuss this with your physician and he/she should be able to point you in the right direction for all the documentation necessary to defend your final right.

badger 13 years, 4 months ago

I have to disagree with you, lunacydetector. Nancy Schiavo is, by all general medical convention, dead already. I don't blame her husband for wanting to move on with his life, and I don't think it's because he wants an insurance settlement. She's not showing improvement, and the neural scans don't offer any hope of even a partial recovery. Her parents are merely prolonging her life to try and force a miracle. If there is going to be a miracle, it will happen whether she's on life support or not.

I think that your spouse is the person who should know your wishes, and that a spouse has the right to determine for you, when you're not able to for yourself, that care should end.

I've seen an interview (many years ago) with Nancy Schiavo's husband where he said he'd accepted that she wasn't coming back and begun the process of grieving and coping with her loss.

When someone you love is irreversibly brain-damaged, there's a period of adjustment where you accept that she is gone, even though you still hold out hope for a miracle. I won't presume that you've never watched someone die piecemeal like that, because you may have. I will say that very few of the people who are strong advocates of forcing medical care on the brain-dead actually have.

I don't believe that the governor of any state has any right to step into the medical care decisions of any individual, and I certainly don't believe he has the right to alter state law to allow him the ability to do that simply for one controversial case.

PigFarmer 13 years, 4 months ago

Well said badger, that is why I say plan ahead regardless of age and get these documents in place. You can do all these documents for under a hundred dollars.

If you don't have a $100.00 then use the internet and find a draft to copy. I would bet there are even free internet sites, but be careful as they may be saving info about you or trying to get you to buy something you don't need.

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

This issue is very relevant to me right now. I take care of an elderly relative who has Alzheimer's. We have brought Hospice in as she becomes more frail and non-functioning. Because of Hospice and a DNR order, the family KNOWS what she wants. She wants to die on her own terms eventhough she is no longer able to communicate that. With Hospice you don't even have to call 911 when someone passes away because they will take care of all the end-of-life procedures. Thank goodness for them! It is really about quality of life, in the end. Everyone must put into writing EXACTLY what they want done if they become sick or are in an accident. Your family can't always make good decisions in those situations. Make a difficult situation easier for them. Let them know what you want.

And the Schiavo case is so sad. She is brain dead and her family is still holding on to something thats just not there. I was there when we took my mother-in-law off life support after a horrible brain hemmorage. It was the worst decision the family had to make but she was, by all accounts, never coming back with that much brain damage. Now they know that it was the ONLY thing to do. We must remember quality of life. Being brain dead is not living.....

lunacydetector 13 years, 4 months ago

mariahsmommie, i was referring to the defenders of starving miss schiavo. if she had a living will then things might've been different but who knows.

my whole debate wasn't against the subject of living wills, it was the misinformation a lot of people were forcing regarding the schiavo case.

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

She is brain damaged to the point of no return. Your brain does not regenerate and become whole again. If she is with little or no brain function and can not eat or breath without machines than she is not "living". My point is not moot but your argument for her case only proves that you slant and manipulate information to make people look bad. Her husband has gone thru so much yet you paint him out to be a bad person. You are so misinformative. You should be ashamed.....

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

Okay so I read up on the Schiavo case some more. I checked out her family's site and then read some court related stuff where they have the doctor's testimony. It really seems like the family is holding on to something that isn't there. I remember that my mother-in-law seemed to "react" at times but she was still brain damaged so much that there was NO WAY she was really reacting. It seems like the family is letting emotion and faith in an impossibility get in the way. Its all so sad really.

lunacydetector 13 years, 4 months ago

my grandmother had alzhiemers and didn't know anybody for years. it was like she was living in a dream state from her early childhood.

anyway, the day she died, she remembered everybody's name.

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

I'm not sure what you're trying to say with your last comment, LD. Are you saying that your grandmother was miraculously restored at the end? I'm confused about what your intention was when you added this.

Mariahsmommy 13 years, 4 months ago

The posts made in reaction to this article are proof that this is a very touchy subject. However, what IS clear is the importance of having your directives in order and making certain that your family, your doctor and any other providers of care know exactly what your wishes are so they can be honored at the end of your life.

I have to say it is Terry Schiavo and not Nancy - but this is a very tragic example of what can happen as a result of not having these important conversations. They are difficult to have, but a true gift to those who love you if they are put into a position of having to make an end-of-life decision.

When your wishes are known, even though it may be difficult for your family to agree about the decisions you made and to honor them, at least they KNOW what YOU wanted. That should be respected.

badger 13 years, 4 months ago

Sorry about the confusion, MM. I got Nancy Schiavo in my head, and got everyone else confused.

Even having your directives in order doesn't always work. That's the problem with a lot of these cases, in which one family member is designated as the decision-maker in the family, and the other family members use the court system to try to hold up that person's decisions or oppose them.

Not only have I talked to my primary decision-maker, I went to the rest of my family and said, "This is the person I have designated. You are not to challenge decisions, you are not to fight that person in court. I'm telling you, here and now, on my own two feet, that this person is not only empowered to make those decisions legally, I've also spent a good bit of time communicating my explicit wishes and expectations with regard to my care, so this person actually knows better than anyone else what I want. NO WRANGLING!"

I'm also confused by LD's comment, Carmenilla. One moment of clarity preceding death does not a recovery make, and such things as muscle spasms and eyelid twitches don't mean someone with irreparable brain damage is getting better.

nicegirl 13 years, 4 months ago

My grandmother was the same as Lunacy's. I used to work as a nurse and saw this a lot in the hospital too. It does not mean that someone is recovering or is getting any better. It's just a phenomenon that seems to happen moments before death. Many people become more alert and even a little responsive right before they pass on. It is often very misleading to family.

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

Looking at your previous posts, kns, I get the feeling that you are pulling our collective leg. Too bad you can't see that we are talking about something serious.

lunacydetector 13 years, 4 months ago

hey nicegirl, how is it misleading to family when someone is near death but suddenly regains their mental faculties before passing? it makes me wonder what exactly is going on. wouldn't it suck that they might know what is going on - but wait, let's pull the plug.

it all comes down to Adolph Hitler's Final Solution to weed out the weaklings. he thought it cool to put the downtrodden down, just like today. he did it in a much more vocal manner, now it is done in a more subtle "intellectual fashion.

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

Gimme us a break, LD!!! Your point is ridiculous at best. And you have nothing REAL to back it up. The only lunacy I detect is YOU!!!

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

that was supposed to say "gimme a break"....

nicegirl 13 years, 4 months ago

First of all, you have proved my point that this medical phenomenon IS misleading. Second, I said nothing of "pulling" any plugs. I have seen many patients pass away from any number of medical conditions. Most of them have some moment of clarity, responsiveness or some verbal communication that they did not have prior to the few moments before death. How is someone who signed a DNR or a living will while they were of sound mind and body even comparable to Hitler? Are they weeding themselves out? Regardless of these moments that happen, the patient is still sick, they still have the same illness/disease or other afliction that they had before. It is the bodies way of handling things when death approaches and the brain begins to shut down and organs begin to fail. It is NOT a sign of faculties returning or recovery. When someone is kept alive by machines, invasive medical procedures and other painful options, it is mostly due to the selfishness and fear of the surviving family. The most humane and loving thing you can do is let someone go and end their suffering. At the very least, honor their wishes whether you agree or not.

Carmenilla 13 years, 4 months ago

Thank you nicegirl for your thoughtful commentary. I too work in the health care profession (specifically with the elderly) and see families break DNR orders all the time because they are too afraid to let their loved ones go. It is important to remember that it is about the quality of life for the person in question. I think LD lost his point before the Hitler comment. What the heck was that all about?

PigFarmer 13 years, 4 months ago

LD it is very common for a person, right before death to remember or even feel better and want to get up out of bed. Something happens in the brain for a few moments. Is this few moments worth 20 years in bed as a vegetable?

I am sorry you feel the way you do about this subject. Don't you know that everyone is going to die and death is not the end? It is not something to fear.

nicegirl 13 years, 4 months ago

Carmenilla: I think that some people are hopeless (i.e. LD). I don't know why we bother trying to explain things because nothing will get through. I guess that is what makes this board interesting and also aggravating!

jonas 13 years, 4 months ago

The great thing about a case like the Terry Schiavo case is that, once you convince yourself you're fighting for the sanctity of life, you can cheerfully chuck critical thought out the window. What can result is the belief that anyone not fighting to prolong existence is evil or selfish. Any information to the contrary gets filtered out or ignored (such as the fact that, say, there is no insurance money left after 15 years of constant medical bills). I, as well, did a lot of digging into this case, and I found 2 sides, predictably. There is the side that says all of the rehabilitations that could have been done were done (without saying what those were) that there was not and will not be any improvement, and that Terry should be laid to rest, and that the family, after a monetary dispute with the husband, was approached by pro-life political groups and convinced to start this fight. The other side says that the husband is greedy for insurance money (though it has been noted that there is very little of this left), and he just wants her to die so she can be forgotten about, and that there are still things that can be done to rehab her (without saying what those might be, or acknowledging what has been done). The claims of improvements are generally well-edited video clips, so there is no way to ascertain what truth they may hold.

It should be noted however, that doctor analysis comes from 3 groups, the family, the husband, and state intermediaries. The families' hired doctors are the only ones who say she has any chance of recovery.

My personal opinion is that being stuck in a hospital bed for 15 years, if concious of the event, would be a prison sentence, not an act of blessing. I also find it curious that the pro-life community, which so often talks of the evils of "playing god" with stem cell research and abortion, would advocate the unnatural extension of someone's life so far past it's natural viability. That sounds like playing god to me.

As to the question: of course they should have the choice, why is this even in question? What business is it of anyone else's to determine when your life should end or what you should do to prolong it. The only one who actually has to endure your own existence is yourself, so you are the only one who has the right or the responsability, and anyone who says otherwise is, truly, thinking only of THEIR OWN discomfort with death and what it means.

I'm not passionately opinionated on this issue, or anything.

mrcairo 13 years, 4 months ago

I want to go just like my grand-dad, in his sleep, not like the screaming passengers in his car.

lunacydetector 13 years, 4 months ago

if terri schiavo's husband was fighting to divorce his wife instead of trying to kill her off so he could collect the life insurance -then I wouldn't detect the lunacy. to be so closed minded regarded THIS argument - i say this since NOBODY even brought this up, shows how idiotic the "Kill off Terri Schiavo by starvation because it is humanitarian" argument really is. If people can't see the correlation between Hitler's Final Solution and this case, you need to read your history books.

I can label most of you on this website as idiots or lunactics. Either one fits.

I hope I got through to your "closed minds."

jonas 13 years, 4 months ago

Ahh yes, "Lunacy"detector. Thank you for showing us the power of critical thought and an open mind. That was certainly a well thought dissertation, full of factual evidence and deep, considerate thought.

And I'm sure you'll have fun with this. . .

Of course, at this point, the starvation is the only real answer, inhumane as it may be, as to help her along would be "murder," and as such unallowable. Instead, per virtually all but the right to life brigade, we are consigning her to an indeffinate prison sentence in a small hospital bed, with no chance of ever leading a significant life, with no chance to interact with her friends and family ever again, all because some group wants political capitol for Florida. How refreshing.

Mariahsmommy 13 years, 4 months ago

Well Lunacy --

I, for one, do NOT appreciate your assuming I have a "closed mind". You are the one with a closed mind. You obviously have made your decision and that is fine. However, you do NOT have the right to tell me what I believe is wrong.

The Terry Schiavo case is so very tragic and there are no "winners" in the whole situation. Those of us who are not involved have absolutely no right to judge the feelings, thoughts or decisions of any member of that family. I am tired of hearing people make judgements. I can only assume those are the same hypocritical folks to go to church on Sunday and do not even come close to practicing what they preach.

The most interesting thing would be to know what Terry has to say about this whole thing. I believe she is very saddened by the discord in her family.

I think I am glad you are not someone that holds my own durable power of attorney for health care. The bottom line here is this -- it DOES NOT matter if you agree with someones decision to not have their life prolonged when there is a trauma or illness and they are facing the end of their life. You need to respect their decision to have or not have medical intervention. We are not God. We should not be judging an individuals decision.

Mariahsmommy 13 years, 4 months ago

And I am tired of people saying Terry is "brain-dead". Medically, she is in what is called a "persistent vegetative state". This means that there is no activity in her brain and no hope of a recovery that would return her to a normal, healthy state. Terry's heart problems were a direct result of the stress her eating disorder put on her heart. This lead to the heart attack that kept oxygen from her brain for a prolonged period of time and put her in this vegetative state.

Why can't everyone stop "name calling" and blaming on this topic and take the opportunity to learn something here. Take the opportunity to make your living will and sign a durable power of attorney for health care decisions. Talk to your family. Tell them what your wishes are. The holidays mean you will probably be seeing many of them -- it is the perfect opportunity to have the conversation. I saw on the page where this article starts, that you can link to They actually have the durable power of attorney form you can download. So do several other sites.

If you have NOT been in a position where you had to make a decision for someone you love, then you have NO idea how much it means to know what they want. I had the conversation with my parents. When each of them was dying, at different ages and times, we all knew what they wanted. The rest of the family may not have agreed with mom and dads decision, but we honored them just the same. That's what they wanted. They made the choice when they were lucid and knew exactly what they were talking about. It was such a gift and a relief for us to not have to make the decision and argue about it.

So, if you have not "walked a mile in those shoes", then don't judge me or anyone else in this forum.

jonas 13 years, 4 months ago

Idiot or lunatic is quite a compliment coming from you. It means, as near as I can tell, simply that I disagree with you. And as I find your stance on a majority of issues to be morally repugnant to myself, that suits me just fine.

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