The living dead

There is a change needed in how the law treats legal guardianship in cases like those of Ora Mae Magouirk.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (requires soul sucking registration – I include the article below) that she has a living will specifying that food and water may be withheld if she is in a coma or a persistent vegetative state.

She is in neither.

Nonetheless, her grandaughter/guardian has decided it’s “time for her to go.”

Illness splits woman’s kin
Charles Yoo – Staff
Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Doctors say 81-year-old Ora Mae Magouirk of LaGrange suffers from aortic dissection, but her vessel is not the only thing that’s torn.

For nearly a month, her extended family had undergone a Terry Schiavo-like ordeal, split over whether she should die without nourishment or be kept alive.

A granddaughter who has been deemed her legal guardian placed her in a hospice, without food. Other family members disagreed, saying the woman is not beyond recovery and has not lost her ability to think.

Now a panel of three medical specialists, commissioned by a Troup County probate judge, has ruled that the woman’s heart ailment is treatable.

On Saturday, the widowed cancer clinic retiree was airlifted to UAB Medical Center in Birmingham after a week without food.

Unlike Schiavo, who died last month, Magouirk was neither comatose nor in a vegetative state, say the relatives who want her alive. She was simply drugged with morphine, they said.

Magouirk’s will dictates that a feeding tube be removed if she is in a coma, said nephew Kenneth Mullinax of Birmingham.

The hospital declined to release information, citing federal privacy law.

Magouirk got sick March 13 and was subsequently moved to a LaGrange hospice, which began preparing for her death. The order had come from her physician and grandchildren Beth Gaddy and Michael Shane Magouirk, Mullinax said. He is against letting his aunt die without treatment.

“This is a little old lady who hasn’t had a single drink of whiskey, but she was on morphine, and she was loopy,” Mullinax said.

After Magouirk fell ill, Gaddy the granddaughter — a middle school teacher — told relatives that she prayed about the hospice decision, according to Mullinax. He said she told her family, “I think Jesus wants her to go home. She’s suffered enough.”

“When my Aunt Mae becomes lucid again, she’s going to be very saddened,” said Mullinax, a speechwriter and former congressional aide.

Gaddy could not be reached for comment Monday. Messages left for her and her brother at their mother’s home were not returned.

Mullinax’s mother Lonnie Ruth, who is Magouirk’s 74-year-old sister, also has an aortic dissection, Mullinax said. She is being treated at the Birmingham hospital.

Where one’s existence may be ended by others despite one’s express wishes, one might hope for rigorous legal oversight. This hope appears to be a cruel one.

Ora Mae certainly may have been non-responsive because she was drugged to the gills, not because of a coma or PVS, and she has a clear living will. She was saved by a court order after 10 days of starvation. How could it get that far?

If a living will that would even have kept Terri Schiavo alive is ignored, what’s the point?

I’m sure disabled people are asking that exact question: Who decides when my life isn’t worth continuation; when I’ve suffered enough?

I wonder when we’ll hear Stephen Hawking’s
opinion on this? He occupies the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics, a position previously held by Isaac Newton, and is one of the most brilliant physicists in the world.

Hawking suffers from ALS (Ameliotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is entirely confined to wheelchair and speaks only with the aid a of a computer synthesizer.

Without feeding assistance he’d have been dead before he could have even written A Brief History of Time.