The Terry Schiavo Documentary
1) The quality of life for two individuals has been dramatically affected following
traumatic events. What are the ethical implications in the scenarios? What response
should be given to the patient and family in response to their requests for assisted
euthanasia? Write a formal paper of 750-1,000 words identifying important components
of the topic. Include the following:
a) A description of the topic and related ethical implications:
i) Obligations to your profession and work as a nurse.
ii) Laws regarding this topic.
iii) Stake holders in this scenario.
b) A summary of the impact on social values, morals, norms, and nursing practice.
c) An explanation of how an ethical theory and/or ethical principle might be applied to
address the chosen topic.
2) Prepare this assignment according to the APA guidelines found in the APA Style
Guide, located in the Student Success Center. An abstract is not required.
Outlines for Assignment (Analysis of an Ethical Dilemma)
i) Story of real life incidence when a patient refused treatment and asked for voluntary
or assisted death
ii) What do healthcare professional organizations like ANA, and others say about
iii) Patients rights (subjects like)
A) Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
iv) Nurses responsibility and state laws
v)Euthanasia and ethics
vi) How do different religion think about Euthanasia
vii) Concept theories of Euthanasia
Euthanasia-Terri Schiavo’s Case
Terri Schiavo collapsed as a result of a cardiac arrest in her home at Florida in 1990.
As result, she had a lack of oxygen, which led to brain damage. After being in a coma for
almost three months, diagnostic results declared her state to be vegetative (Springs, n.d). In
the ensuing few years physicians tried various therapies to return her to a state of awareness,
Euthanasia-Terri Schiavo’s Case. 2
but they failed. In 1998 her husband, petitioned the court to stop feeding her by removing the
tube delivering food to Terri so as to end her life (Springs, n.d). This request was made
pursuant to Section 765.401(3) of Florida Statutes. As a result of the request a legal struggle
ensued between the husband and Terri’s parents who were against the removal of the feeding
tube even after the doctors stated that she was in a persistent vegetative state (Springs, n.d). A
legal struggle ensued which lasted for approximately 15 years. The parents argued that Terri
was conscious. After a court’s determination that she would not wish to continue getting life
support, her feeding tube was removed on April 24, 2001. This was however reversed and the
tube re-inserted a few days later. Later a Pinellas County judge gave the same orders on
February 25, 2005. As a result of this order, several appeals were made, and even federal
government interventions, but finally the ruling was upheld, and the Pinellas Park hospice
staff had to remove the tube on March 18, 2005 and Terri died a few days after (Springs, n.d).
This is a typical example of dilemmas that practitioners delivering palliative care
encounter as patients near their end in life. This is even more challenging when different
stakeholders hold different views. In Terri’s case the major stakeholders include her husband
and parents, who in essence are pulling in different ways with regard to the withdrawal of
fluids and food that support her. In Terri’s case euthanasia is not an option because it is
illegal within all U.S. states. Physician assisted suicide also not in her reach because she
resides out of U.S states that offer physician assisted suicide. These states include Vermont,
Montana, Oregon and Washington. It would also not be possible for her to engage in
physician assisted suicide because she is in a vegetative state that cannot allow her to self-
administer the lethal drugs used in physician assisted suicide. As such, the only option left is
the withdrawal of fluid and food supply in order to terminate her life. However, this is not the
end of the ethical and legal challenge. The major challenge is that Terri is in a vegetative state
and she cannot offer her consent on what she desires.
Euthanasia-Terri Schiavo’s Case. 3
According to ethical standards by the American Nurses Association (ANA), a
patient’s autonomy should be observed by allowing a patient to make autonomous decisions
(ANA, 2011). This ethical standard allows for a patient’s input to be included in decision-
making (ANA, 2011). In Terri’s case, she cannot make her own autonomous decision, but her
husband is available to ensure that her could-be decisions in such a case are upheld.
Therefore, her husband’s call for withdrawal of food and fluid supply is an autonomous
decision because had she been able to communicate, she would perhaps relay the same
information or decision. This kind of decision-making is upheld in cases where patients are in
state that they themselves cannot offer their own autonomous decisions. In this case, the
making of the decision by the husband is right in accordance to the 1990 Patient Self
Determination Act, which permits the making of autonomous decisions (American Cancer
Society, 2013). This act ensures that competent people can make their wishes known while
competent, and these wishes can be later applied and used when these people are in the
anticipated situation at their end of life and probably incompetent (American Cancer Society,
2013). The act also allows an attorney to designate an appropriate competent person to help
in the making of end of life decisions when a person is no longer competent. Therefore, either
way Terri’s husband had a right to make decisions about her end of life (American Cancer
From a different perspective, as a medical practitioner, one is expected to always
engage in acts that are beneficial as stated in the beneficence principle (Pantilat, 2008). The
withdrawal of fluid and food supply can directly cause death, which is not a beneficial act in
its first sense and appearance. However, if this act is done with the request of the patient, then
it is being done with the best interest of the patient in mind. As such, one can say that the
withdrawal of the tube in Terri’s case was done with her best interests in mind, and this can
be termed as a beneficial act from the fact that it has been done with the patient’s best interest
Euthanasia-Terri Schiavo’s Case. 4
in mind. The act of tube withdrawal is also in line with the observance of the non-
maleficence principle because the practitioners do not directly get involved in causing any
harm (Pantilat, 2008).
In a nutshell, while all these ethical and legal observances may have been made in
Terri’s case, in the eye of most Christian faiths, the act was unethical because life is a gift,
and sanctity of life should always be upheld and at all costs. Therefore, while the decision
was legal and applicable to the case, under the religious dictates, the actions were not right
because they demeaned a life and made it appear as if one life is more important than another.
This is wrong before the eyes of most religious faiths where all lives are equally important.
American Cancer Society (2013).The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA).