Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Terri Schiavo all over again

The Minnesota House will consider a bill requiring that "incapacitated persons" be provided with food and water.
The bill would create a presumption in law that a person incapable of making his or her own health care decisions would be given food and water. The law would provide for three exemptions:

• If food and water would not contribute to keeping the person alive or would not provide the person comfort.

• If the person had completed a health care directive explicitly authorizing the withholding or withdrawal of food and water.

• If there is "clear and convincing evidence that the person, when legally capable of making health care decisions, gave express and informed consent" to withhold or remove food and water.

What I fail to understand is why legislators think things like this are any of their business. If someone is incapacitated, those closest to them should make decisions regarding their care. Not the government, not me, not you. Nobody can plausibly claim to know the wishes of the patient better than those who know them best.

The exceptions don't address this. I've made it clear to my wife that I don't want to be kept alive if I'm ever in a Schiavo-like condition. But my health-care directive remains unfinished. Would my wife's testimony alone be considered "clear and convincing evidence" of my wishes? It sure wasn't in the Schiavo case.

The last thing we need in end-of-life decisions is more laws, more lawyers and more public nosiness. Leave such decisions to the family, except in cases where there is reason to believe that the family does not have the patient's best interests at heart. Litigate the exceptions, not the norms.

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