Early Beginnings

“After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest.

I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society.

For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us.”

— Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Welcome to my blog! This summer, I will be living in Rochester, MN and working at the Mayo Clinic as a Vann Fellow with my friend Adam Hunter. Throughout the summer, I will be working with physicians on manuscripts, attending rounds, and participating in debates and presentations relating to medical ethics. Thanks for following along!

I’m frequently asked how I got involved with topics in medical ethics. I have titled this blog from a statement by Michael Schiavo, the husband of Terri Schiavo. From 1990 to 2005, the Schiavo family remained entangled in a legal battle regarding life support for Teresa “Terri” Schiavo. Diagnosed with being in a persistent vegetative state, Terri was heralded as an example in United States media as a battleground for both issues in medicine and politics.


A protester outside of the capitol for Terri

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s house as images of Terri Schiavo would flash across the screen. Throughout the country, people debated issues such as the right-to-die, the right to refuse treatment, disability rights, ways to ethically die, physician rights, and political motives. Terri, who identified as Roman Catholic, did not have a living will established. While her husband Michael asserted that Terri would have wanted her feeding tube removed, Terri’s parents contested that she would not have wanted to violate the Catholic Church’s teachings on euthanasia. In 2003, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, nearly 13 years following her collapse. However, within a week, the Florida Legislature then passed “Terri’s Law” which allowed Gov. Bush to intervene in the case; thus, Gov. Bush ordered that the tube be inserted. News media erupted in debate over whether or not the state should be allowed to intervene in the medical decisions of families.

These themes still persist today.

I would say that I became interested in topics of medical practices and bioethics because I have been a patient myself. I have experienced the frustration, heartbreak, and sadness that can accompany medical decision making. Yet, I’ve also experienced how physicians and caretakers can dramatically improve the quality of life for patients.

With recent introduction of the Affordable Care Act and other legislation, we live in a unique time for medicine. Medicine and technology continue to rapidly advance, and new developments force physicians to consider ethical practices.  We live in an ever-changing landscape in both law and medicine, and though it would initially appear that the interests of patients and physicians align, medicine can, at times, present dramatic conflict.

This summer, I will be working on two manuscripts: assessing physician attitudes towards healthcare reform with Dr. Jon Tilburt and a systematic review of risk prediction in acute kidney injury and end-stage renal disease with Dr. Björg Thorsteinsdottir. I am deeply grateful to the Vann family, Dr. Perry, and my family for making this experience possible. Follow Adam’s blog at www.halfopeneddoor.wordpress.com to see his experiences in working with hand, organ, and face transplants with Drs. Kevin Reid and Richard Sharp.

I hope that this is the beginning of a series of personal experiences detailing issues in medical ethics. Throughout this summer, I will focus particularly on political, ethical, and legal issues surrounding medical care. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you!