Recently, one such ethical consideration presented itself in the life of the family members of Terri Schiavo. Schiavo is an individual that had lost higher brain functions and had been relegated to a bed and a feeding tube. Schiavo’s parents desire was to keep her alive, while her husband believed it was Schiavo’s desire to remove the feeding tube. The incident presents a number of ethical questions related to end of life issues. This essay considers the various issues surrounding this case, and articulates what I learned from this dilemma. In considering the various ethical elements surrounding the Terri Schiavo dilemma there are a number of things I learned. One of the primary elements I learned to consider was the nature of ethical considerations in the realm of secular and non-secular concerns. Within the spectrum of the Terri Schiavo dilemma it seems apparent that one of the primary concerns arises as an element of Schiavo’s parents Roman Catholic beliefs. The ethical dilemma is presented as a concern between her family members over medical concerns, with Schiavo’s parents indicating that they believe she has the potential to wake from her state and her husband indicating not believing this is possible. Still, it seems that most evidence indicates that Schiavo has truly lost higher-level brain functioning. In these regards, their religious perspective largely influences Schiavo’s parents. It seems that such decisions must be established on firmer ethical grounds than spirituality.
Another major thing I learned related to the nature of ethical decision-making. Having never experienced such a life-pressing dilemma as occurred in the Schiavo case, it was surprising to discover that there was not a readily established chain of decision-making. While one would think to trust Schiavo’s husband, this issue is further complicated by potential financial or legal motivations he might have to see her die early. The case notes, “Providing clear direction is a gift we can give to those who love us, a gift that avoids putting them in the agonizing situation of trying to make choices on our behalf without knowing what we would want” (Hinman & Kalichman). Ultimately, the failure of such a process or structure of decision making greatly contributed to the ethical challenges of this specific case. Another element that was learned related to the need for increased awareness and legal structure to be established in relation to end of life issues. In researching end-of-life issues one of the most pervasive such contemporary considerations occurs in the case of Dr. Jack Kevorkian; it’s noted that, “Dr. Jack Kevorkian was found guilty of second-degree murder for ending the life of a terminally ill man” (Hinman). In these regards, it seems that there is considerable debate regarding questions related to the legal elements of end of life issues. The very notion that an individual should have to go to a black market doctor to find an option for euthanasia is indicative of the tremendous ethical challenges within this realm of medical care. While religious principles have historically functioned as cornerstone elements of many moral decisions throughout society, it seems that in questions of end-of-life decisions they have held back progress in legal decision-making. Few would contend that religion should be prohibited, but just as restrictions are placed on the extent that spirituality can influence