The Terri Schiavo case was a highly contested legal battle in the United States of America involving individuals right-to-life. The case dragged on from 1990 to 2005 causing public furor and drawing in the attention and input of the American political class. Terri Schiavo suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 26 years, which resulted in her brain being damaged. Though subjected to numerous treatment options and therapies, her health deteriorated. Indeed, with the upper part of her brain atrophied, Terri Schiavo soon slipped into a vegetative state (“Schiavo case,” n.d.). Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, was in favor of withdrawing Terri from the life support machine claiming that while alive, she had made it clear that she would not wish to be kept alive by artificial means. Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, however, argued that she should not be withdrawn from the life-supporting machine since Terry, though unresponsive, was still alive as proven by her reflexes. The presiding judge, Justice Greer, decided to withdraw Terri Schiavo from the life support machine.
The evident bioethics issue in the Terri Schiavo case is that concerning end-of-life care. Bioethics is a branch of nursing ethics that incorporates aspects and concepts from various fields such as philosophy, theology, and law into nursing and medicine. This multidisciplinary approach enables bioethics to consider and deal with each nursing case from different viewpoints and perspectives. According to Hussung (2017), bioethics refers to the integration of biology, bioscience, and humanistic knowledge to inform nursing and medical code of conduct and regulations. Some of the bioethical issues in contemporary healthcare include end-of-life care, medical resource allocation, euthanasia, organ donation, and eugenics.
Euthanasia involves the termination of a critically ill patient to relieve him or her of the pain and suffering she is undergoing. Euthanasia is a relatively new concept brought to the fore by advancements in both law and medicine. Bioethics regulates the medical and clinical practices that health practitioners perform in cases of euthanasia and ensure that they are in line with acceptable health policies and ethics. The judge in the Schiavo case ruled in favor of Terri being withdrawn from life support stating that relying on the medical evidence in court the brain damage severed by Schiavo was so severe that the possibility of her regaining normalcy was almost nil. I agree with the judge’s ruling as the judgment helped relieve Terri of the pain and suffering she was undergoing in the vegetative state she had slipped into.
With the current advancement in both medical and nursing technologies, medical treatment can be used to prolong life. However, Ulrich et al. (2010) argue that unnecessary prolonging of life can reduce the quality of life more so when an individual is unconscious and therefore cannot decide his or her fate. The right to life is a fundamental right that should be preserved at all costs however, an individual’s right to refuse treatment and medical intervention should also be taken into consideration. In cases such as that of Terri Schiavo where the patient lacks a living will, is unconscious or mentally retarded close family members should intervene and decide on the withdrawal of life support.
The bioethical issue concerning end-of-life hugely influenced the decisions of the medical practitioners handling the Terri case. The five doctors who testified in the case adduced expert medical evidence to inform the court if Terri could get out of her vegetative state and whether she could ultimately regain the use of her brain through therapy. Bioethics enabled the team of doctors to present clear evidence before the court to enable the judge to make a well-informed decision concerning the withdrawal of Terri from life support.
Hussung, T. (2017, June 2). Bioethical Issues in Healthcare Management: CSP Online. Retrieved from https://online.csp.edu/uncategorized/bioethical-issues-in-health-care-management
Schiavo case. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/history/north-america/court-cases/schiavo-case
Ulrich, C. M., Taylor, C., Soeken, K., O’Donnell, P., Farrar, A., Danis, M., & Grady, C. (2010). Everyday ethics: ethical issues and stress in nursing practice. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66(11), 2510–2519. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05425.x