The leadership, staff and volunteers of the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care extend their heartfelt sympathies, thoughts and prayers to the family, friends and caregivers of Terri Schiavo.
The very tragic story of Schiavo's end-of-life saga that has saturated our consciousness underscores the conflict and disquiet that such situations can present.
The debate that has taken place on both sides of the issue has been filled with passion. However, the core issue with this case, and others like it, is discerning who has the authority to make decisions for those who cannot speak for themselves so that the wishes and values of the patient are honored.
This issue is not new and has been thoughtfully debated for years at all levels of government and community. Advance medical directive legislation has been an ongoing dynamic exchange involving professionals within the health care community and lawmakers who have worked to craft state health care proxy laws.
This has been a thorough and thoughtful process, and the medical, bioethical and legal communities have embraced the principles involved. The hyperbole and opportunism of some government officials and "stand-in" physicians, each with secondary agendas, as well as firmly held views, has done nothing to mitigate the tragedy of the case.
Inappropriately sullied in some of this debate has been the role of hospice care. In truth, hospice professionals have never wavered from appropriately and ethically tending to Schiavo's needs, as she has remained in hospice care throughout the duration of the legal proceedings. The hospice program that compassionately cared for Schiavo continued to support her with quality care to the end, never evading its commitment to non-abandonment.
As a hospice professional, I take great pride in being part of a team of gifted people who help others face illness, disability and death every day. These are individuals who dedicate their lives to tirelessly tending to the needs of our frailest and most vulnerable family members, friends and neighbors.
Seeking the good that can come out of this tragedy is for people to take action and clearly identify whom they would want to act on their behalf, and to clearly articulate their wishes regarding invasive, extraordinary medical interventions. This extremely personal and private step should involve one's family members and physician. People should contemplate their own values, deeply held beliefs, cultural traditions and faith when considering their wishes regarding end-of-life care. The Coalition for Health Care Decision Making, formerly the Western New York Healthcare Proxy Coalition, is an excellent community resource that offers helpful guidance for consumers seeking information about this topic. For more information, visit www.Ihaveone.org.
Each of us should now take the time to appoint a health care proxy and complete a living will. It is the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, those we love and those who love us.
William E. Finn is president and CEO of the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care in Cheektowaga.