COLUMBUS - Ohio courts could not order the removal of feeding and hydration tubes from a vegetative patient if family members disagree about the patient's wishes under legislation proposed yesterday by several Republicans.
Saying Ohio law could allow a repeat of the Terri Schiavo case here, the lawmakers proposed giving other close family members equal footing with a spouse and prohibiting a judge from intervening when there's disagreement.
Ohio law, like Florida's, currently places such decisions in the hands of the spouse.
"We don't want to play God," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Vandalia). "Only God knows what life is worth living."
The proposed law would apply only in the absence of a living will indicating the patient's wishes or a legal document granting power of attorney to someone else.
Otherwise, a spouse, parent, child, legal guardian, or a majority of siblings could put a stop to any court proceeding by meeting a low threshold of evidence that the patient would prefer to be kept alive in such a situation.
It would apply only to cases involving the withholding of food and water from a person in a persistently vegetative state and would not affect the disconnecting of a respirator or some other form of artificial life support.
"This says the court is not even going to try to figure it out," said Jeff Gamso, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. "The judicial system routinely makes efforts to determine what people were thinking. To carve this one out, to say that it's the family's wish that counts and we don't have to consider your wishes, is wrong."
Mr. Jacobson noted the evidence that a family member could introduce to end a court proceeding could be "very thin." It could be as little as the family member telling the court the patient had at one time told him he would want to be kept alive.
The Schiavo case exposed a rift in American society, raising questions over quality of life, states' rights, judicial activism, and government intervention.
Mrs. Schiavo died after her feeding and water tube was removed under a court order sought by her husband. She had no living will, and her parents fought the decision.
"Life is so special, life is so important, that we should err on the side of protecting it," Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) said. "The presumption should be in favor of it."
Mr. Gamso raised constitutional questions about a separate bill expected to be introduced soon in the House by Rep. Derrick Seaver (R., Minster).
That bill would allow someone who wants to maintain any life-sustaining measures, artificial or otherwise, to be able to do so as long as he or she has the financial means to pay for it.
"If you've got enough money and you want to keep a person alive, you can," Mr. Gamso said. "But if you happen to be broke, you can't. This is somehow ill-conceived."
Although the bill doesn't answer the question, Mr. Seaver said he believes that a poor person covered by Medicaid could qualify.
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