Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Installment #4: Nebraska Humane Care Amendment

Here's the next in the series I've been printing here at Vital Signs Blog of the FAQ document provided by the organizers of the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment. Parts One, Two and Three can be found simply by clicking on these links. The rest, of course, will be forthcoming in future posts.

So, would the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment prevent so-called “assisted suicide”?

It would prevent involuntary “assisted suicide” by means of dehydration/starvation.

It emphatically does NOT support, but neither does it address, Kevorkian-style poisoning (or death by any other means) with competent consent of a person seeking death.

Would the Humane Care Amendment cause Terri Schiavo-type spectacles in Nebraska?

No, it would prevent them: The Schiavo episode –feuding family members, troubling court rulings, protesters, TV cameras, politicians, Congressional intervention, etc. – came about because Florida law was silent on the basic, minimum standard of providing food and water to those who have left no record of their wishes to the contrary. When the Florida trial judge accepted Michael Schiavo’s allegation about his wife’s unrecorded wishes for her own hydration/nutrition, it triggered a heartbreaking war between Terri’s parents (who believed Terri wanted to live) and her husband (who claimed she wanted to die).

On the one hand, Terri’s parents contended that Michael had abandoned their daughter and was living with another woman, that he had abused and neglected Terri for years, and that he was seeking to inherit a large amount of settlement money established for Terri’s ongoing care and physical therapy.

On the other, Michael as legal guardian convinced the court he knew Terri’s will. To prevent such clashes, the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment establishes ground rules: If you truly want to authorize some business or person to dehydrate/starve you by withdrawing fluids and nourishment under specific medical circumstances, put it in writing. Otherwise, Nebraska’s humane care standard guarantees you and your loved ones the basics of food and water.

Could the disputants in the Terri Schiavo case potentially agree on the components of the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment?

Maybe. Michael Schiavo has called for Americans everywhere to establish health care advance directives so their wishes are fully known, recorded and honored – something the Nebraska HCA provides for. Those who opposed him – ranging from liberals like Ralph Nader, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, and disability rights activists all the way to conservatives like George and Jeb Bush, pro-lifers, priests, rabbis and ministers -- were appalled at Terri Schiavo’s slow dehydration/starvation death. The Nebraska HCA would preclude such events, except as the express personal authorization of the person most affected is honored by the institution with the duty of care.