Saturday, February 02, 2008

Murder in the Air - again: the unhappy case of Lauren Richardson

She used to look like this:

Not so much anymore.

And again we have a split between the victim's loved ones, this time between divorced parents: a father who wants to care for her and a mother who swears Lauren told her she'd "never want to live like that." The Court of Chancery believes the latter, and has awarded guardianship to her, as the state of Delaware's legal system stirs itself into sluggish but relentless motion, and the machinery of death once again takes on a certain 'life' of its own.

You can begin reading the story here, at Terrisfight.

You can also see the father's interview on Hannity and Colmes.

A YouTube video of Lauren with family (including the dog).

And a website devoted to her cause.

[posted also at W4]


alicia said...

when did food and water become "life support"? here we go again - and why can't the family who don't want her to live just let go!!!

William Luse said...

Because "letting go" lends credence to the fanciful and purely religious belief that profoundly disabled people really are people.

MamaT said...

Oh, dear God.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. I guess I'll eventually get over my stomach hurting and my heart breaking.

I hope not.

William Luse said...

That's what they're trying to do - wear you down.

Lydia McGrew said...

There's a guy over on my W4 thread on a different case who says that food and water are "life support" and "treatment" if a minor bit of surgery has been performed to insert the port for the tube and also if the food involved looks like "slurry." Now _there's_ an argument.

The other guy on the thread, who I think is a doctor, won't even call it "food and water" if it isn't taken by mouth. I wonder why?

William Luse said...

Well, as brendon pointedly asked (paraphrasing), "Has there ever been a case when food and water did not support life?" The surgery must be irrelevant since some throat cancer patients actually breathe through a tube that was surgically inserted. Christopher Reeve's ventilator (which really was life support) was surgically attached. As for the doctor, he probably wishes to redefine food and water so that he can't be accused of taking it away.

But I don't think any of this is really about painful distinctions between ordinary and extraordinary care, about the definition of murder, patient autonomy, or a dignified death. The proponents of tube withdrawal in PVS cases know very well that if they take away someone's food and water, that someone is going to die and they very much intend it to happen. Rather, these cases are about people who think a Terri Schiavo is really a dead person whose eyes are still open, whose heart still happens to beat, and whose lungs still stubbornly breathe. They really do think she's a vegetable. Literally. If she'd had something left of her wits about her, we wouldn't even be having the discussion. To them she was dead, and you can't murder dead people.

Lydia McGrew said...

What's crazy is that they will do it to people who do have something of their wits about them. Remember the Boa defending dehydrating that old lady to death who was conscious and asked a nurse if she could have "a little food." He was serious. Conscious, talking people have been dehydrated to death, and someone like that has no conscience about it. He considers it "being professional," even when the claim that this is what the person asked for while legally competent is questionable. We should remember the rather scary fact that being legally competent and being conscious and able to talk/communicate are _not_ the same thing in most (all?) states. A stroke patient can be entirely in the control of other people even if he's sufficiently "with it" to write notes. On Right Reason I told a story that was told to me on the blogosphere by a lawyer about a client of hers who was dehydrated to death after a stroke and kept writing notes over and over asking for water. Apparently she was at least somewhat mentally "there," for all I know she was all "there," but her family was told she would have to go to a nursing home if she had a feeding tube, and they said she "wouldn't want to go to a nursing home," so they dehydrated her to death.

A man at our church, a dear old man with loving grown-up children, suffered severely from thirst after a stroke for several days before dying. He was entirely mentally there but couldn't speak, and our priest reported after visiting him that he kept trying to get up from his bed to get a drink. His children did authorize IV hydration, but that didn't take care of the thirst as a feeding tube would have done and probably didn't give him enough hydration, either, much less nutrition. He had a bad heart, and the doctors convinced them that it would be "dangerous" to give him the anesthetic needed for the minor surgery to implant a PEG tube. Why he couldn't have a non-surgical NG tube no one would tell me, though I asked everyone I could talk to. I was really distressed about it and didn't tell the kids; this was someone they had known and so forth. I believe his grown children were genuinely convinced by the doctors that it would be _wrong_ to put in a feeding tube because of the anesthetic risk, which of course couldn't have been any worse than the _certainty_ of death without proper hydration, which he wasn't getting from the IV alone. He didn't linger for the full two weeks but died after only about five days or so, but after quite a lot of suffering from thirst. The doctors were so worried about aspiration that they actually gave him medications to dry up his saliva so he wouldn't swallow it lest he breathe his own saliva, so this made the suffering from thirst even worse. I don't know if he was drugged in the end or not.

William Luse said...

Well, then, I can only surmise that those who would deny water to someone clearly asking for it must simply enjoy killing people. Maybe it enhances their God-like sense of compassion, though I think behind it all is a hatred of Christian moral absolutes, and the overriding need to purge it from the discourse.