October 2003

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In Best of the Web Today for October 28, James Taranto quotes from a Larry King interview with Michael Schiavo, who is trying to get the hospital to stop feeding his wife Terri, who is in a vegetative state, so that she will die:

Schiavo: […] This is Terri’s wish. This is Terri’s choice.

King: It’s not written anywhere, right?

[…]

King: How old was she when this happened?

Schiavo: Twenty-five.

King: A 25-year-old said to you, if I die, if I’m in this kind of state–most 25-year-olds wouldn’t think of something like that?

Geez Larry, these sorts of pull-the-plug situations are in the news quite often (somewhat less so now that Jack Kevorkian has a new address), and they’re a staple of television drama. Hell, thousands of people have probably talked this over with their friends and families just because of coverage of the Terri Schiavo story, perhaps even just from this broadcast.

25-year-olds may not expect it to really matter in their own lives, but people talk about these things all the time because the issue comes up a lot in our society. I’m sure that even most high-school kids have discussed what they’d want done.

Michael Schiavo pretty much said what I was thinking:

Schiavo: It was a comment from watching certain programs. She said, we were watching some programs, and she says, I don’t want anything artificial like that. I don’t want any tubes. Don’t let me live like that. I don’t want to be a burden to anybody. She’s also made comments to other people about different stories.

Taranto then comments:

If Terri really felt that way, she could have put her wishes into a living will, a legal document that stipulates the conditions under which treatment is to be withheld and specifies a “health care agent” who is authorized to interpret the will’s provisions. (The New York State Bar Association Web site has a sample will.) […] Michael Schiavo and his partisans seem to be arguing that secondhand reports of offhand comments that Mrs. Schiavo supposedly after a television show have the same weight as a living will. This seems irresponsible to say the least.

Contrary to Larry King, young people do discuss these sorts of things, but contrary to James Taranto, they don’t usually bother to do anything about it.

My wife has expressed her wishes about this situation on several occasions, and yes, it was often after seeing a TV program on the subject. I know her well enough to know that despite the casual situation, she had thought about it and meant what she said. If something were to happen to her, I would feel confident that I know her wishes and I would try to follow them. My wife doesn’t have to notify me in writing when she wants me to do something for her.

Perhaps the state of Florida shouldn’t be willing to take Michael Schiavo’s word about his wife’s wishes, but Taranto is wrong to suggest that Schiavo is a bad guy just because his wife’s wishes aren’t documented well enough.