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No limits to hypocrisy in Terri Schiavo case


A few weeks ago, a friend made the decision to turn off her adult son’s life-support equipment after he suffered two cerebral aneurysms. She said that as difficult as it was to say goodbye to her son, it would have been more difficult to see him linger in a vegetative state for perhaps years to come. He didn’t have an advanced-care directive or living will, but those of us who knew him also knew that his mother’s decision honored his wishes.

An emotional Congress, bowing to pressure from the religious right, didn’t politicize her decision by intervening with legislation requiring federal courts to accept pleadings in the matter. Legislators didn’t play doctor or medical ethicist. President Bush didn’t quickly rearrange his schedule to fly back to the White House to sign a hasty, ill-conceived bill into law. The decision not to take heroic measures to prolong my friend’s life was made his immediate family, as it should have been.

Of course, the situation my friend was faced with was different from that of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose plight has captivated Americans for the past week. But many of the issues involved are similar. Schiavo can’t speak for herself and neither could my friend. Iowa law clearly allowed his mother to order the artificial life-support equipment removed, just as Florida law allowed Michael Schiavo to request that his wife’s feeding tube be removed. In both cases, dignity is at issue.

Hypocrisy apparently knows no bounds. Republicans, usually the first to champion states’ rights, are stampeding over them and a few Democrats who should know better, including Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, joined them.

But the prize for hypocrisy goes to the president. Bush views Schiavo’s life as important – and it is – but apparently was unperturbed by the decision by officials at a Texas hospital to take 6-month-old Sun Hudson, diagnosed and slowly dying from a rare form of dwarfism, off the ventilator sustaining his life, despite the objections of the boy’s parents. And why should he be? As governor of Texas in 1999, Bush signed the Futile Care Law, which pits families against health-care institutions, as it did in the case of the Hudson boy, whose financially destitute mother was unable to find another institution willing to take her child.

In the case of Spiro Nikolouzos, a Texas man who had been in a persistent vegetative state for about three years, The Houston Chronicle reported: “A patient’s inability to pay for medical care combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support …” The Nikolouzos family’s attorney had suggested that the hospital wanted to discontinue care because his Medicare funding was running out. Members of the family were eventually able to find a facility willing to care for him.

Why is Terri Schiavo’s life more important than the lives of Sun Hudson and Spiro Nikolouzos? If ever there were a state’s issue worthy of federalization, it would seem to be a law that allows a health-care provider to usurp the wishes of family and require patients to pass a financial means test before determining the level of care.

But the president has said nothing.

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