Position Paper The Silent Witness: The Case Of Theresa Shiavo

1539 words - 6 pages

The case of Theresa Shiavo gained national attention because it was an extremely controversial subject. Following a collapse in February 1990 of heart failure, when she was only 26 years old, Terri had been in a coma for three months. When she regained consciousness she was in the generally unresponsive state in which she would remain for 15 years. She remained on a feeding tube to keep her alive. Her husband, Michael Shiavo, stated that it was not Terri's wish to be kept alive in this way and that she should be taken off the feeding tube and allowed to die. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, did not agree and petitioned the court to allow their daughter to continue on the life-support. This sparked major press coverage and the attention of Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, Congress and the White House. Over the years, more than 40 judges have been involved with this case.On the morning of February 25, 1990, Theresa Shiavo collapsed in the hallway of her home in St. Petersburg, Florida of what appeared to be heart failure. It is not known what caused the heart failure; however, it was well known that Terri had been concerned about her weight, and had been on a NutraSystems diet in the past. Doctors who examined her after she collapsed presumed that she had the eating disorder bulimia, and because of this she had a potassium deficiency which caused her heart failure. This has never been proven. The cause of her collapse remains a mystery.When paramedics arrived at the scene, Terri was in full cardiac arrest. After seven attempts to defibrillate, or electrically shock the heart into beating normally, a rhythm was restored. Terri's brain had gone without oxygen for over an hour. She did receive irreversible brain damage. The biggest question that still remains is, "Was Terri in a 'permanent vegetative state?'"Some doctors have referred to Terri's condition as "locked-in syndrome, which was not the case. Complete "locked-in syndrome," which is sometimes characterized as "living eyes in a dead body," is characterized by tetraplegia (the paralysis of all four limbs), paralytic mutism (an inability to speak), the oculomotor deviation known as lateral gaze palsy, and the inability to breathe unaided. The patient, however, retains the ability to think and reason. Theresa Shiavo was not tetraplegic and could breathe unaided, but seemed not to have retained the ability to think. Many neurologists have called her condition a "persistent vegetative state," in which the patient has normal sleep-wake cycles but does not respond. Since the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state is based on the absence of response, any response from a patient who has received the diagnosis is presumed to be reflexive. In the last months of Terri's life, some neurologists began to say that her condition could be a "minimally conscious state," a diagnosis in use only since 2002 to differentiate those patients previously diagnosed as vegetative who can track objects or people...

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