Sunday, November 04, 2007

I Shook Hands with Jesse Ramirez

I was speaking at a bioethics conference in Phoenix on Saturday. At lunch the sponsors asked me to come with them because somebody wanted to meet me. It was Jesse Ramirez and his sister and family! What a wonderful surprise. Here was a man that had been consigned to dehydrating to death and who suffered without food and water for five long days, but because of the loving commitment of his blood family--and good legal work by the Alliance Defense Fund--he was standing before me with his hand outstretched, a gentle smile on his face.

Jesse had a delicate countenance and is clearly still recovering from his ordeal. But he can walk on his own with the aid of a walker, is fully cognizant, and is clearly happy to be alive. He was later introduced to the crowd of 400 at the Center for Arizona Policy event and got a rousing standing ovation.

Whilst there, I spoke with someone involved with saving his life--not a member of the family. Apparently, to legally have a feeding tube pulled in Arizona one must either be a named surrogate on an advance directive or be a court appointed guardian and act pursuant to court order. In this case, from what I was told, neither applied--and that was why the dehydration was able to be stopped. Moreover, the dehydration had apparently commenced without Jesse even being examined by a neurologist, only a neurosurgeon, which is not the same thing at all. It was only because of the legal intervention that the neurologist was consulted and saw beginning signs of awareness. The rest is history.

I am hearing way too many stories like this, of decisions to end care made with seeming undue haste. As I noted in my recent Weekly Standard piece, I believe much of this owes to the Terri Schiavo debacle and the bad cultural message it sent to the medical community and the wider society. We must be increasingly vigilant against allowing the pernicious belief that there is such a thing as a life not worthy of living from seeping even further into our health care decision making and public bioethics.

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