After a posting by a citizen journalist from India, I did some research on the facts as published by various sources on two very different "right to life" cases in the United States, and also as one who was living and remembers both cases relatively well since one occurred in the 1970’s-1980 and the last rather recently.
While both of these cases may seem similar to those not at all familiar with the relevant facts and details surrounding both the times, or history of both as either not living in the United States, or even born, below I have outlined some rather significant differences between the two that don’t make the final outcome of either remotely similar.
Karen Quinlan’s picture is embedded in the brains of most of the boomer generation from the one that was published during the decade long battle also over her life or death from her high school yearbook.
The events surrounding her accident and brain trauma injury were precipitated by a drug (Valium it was thought) and alcohol mixture taken at a party, from all reports, in concert with a severe diet and weight loss she had undertaken as a late teen prior to the event. She lapsed into a coma upon her return from the party, and never woke up.
Evidence was presented that it was possible she simply aspirated her own vomit rather than the drug and alcohol mixture being the true cause, but since the patient could not relate the events leading up to the coma, medical supposition also was involved as to what actually lead to the coma.
Her doctors used the words "persistent vegitative state" to describe the depth of the coma as one, upon their best medical opinion and belief, from which she would never recover.
She was on a respirator and being fed intravenously, and had little to no real brain activity.
Her parents petitioned the court to remove the respirator (not the feeding or hydration tubes) from her so that she might either live, or die, as God’s will and during the case proceedings due to the fact that she was not breathing on her own, had little to no brain activity, and was in a deep, deep coma the judge eventually so ordered the respirator only be removed.
She then surprised the world and lived on for several years thereafter, though, breathing on her own and no additional attempts were then made in order to "end her suffering" since to the best of the medical community’s knowledge, there is no real pain or suffering for most whose brains have suffered oxygen deprivation (thus the word "brain dead) to that extent.
It was believed she went without oxygen for quite a while before she was resuscitated at the scene, and then thereafter.
Karen eventually died rather "naturally" of complications of pneumonia she eventually contracted at the extended care facility she was placed after the initial hospitalization.
Teri Schiavo, on the other hand, purportedly suffered her injury due to a fall while at home, according to her husband’s account.
She was older than Karen Quinlan at the time her injury occurred which also resulted in a brain trauma injury due to either the fall, or the lack of oxygen also thereafter. Diet and a sudden weight loss also was involved or used as a contributing cause, although as with Karen, there had been no real medical problems in her past, and the injury and details of just what had occurred remained disputed by the medical experts.
She was, however, conscious to a certain extent, and not in a coma. She did have brain activity, although limited, and there was major damage to areas of the brain, and according to her parents who visited her religiously throughout the years, was responsive to a limited extent.
Rehabilitative efforts were initiated, but quickly abandoned by her husband after a large medical malpractice award was brought on her behalf by her husband, and which resulted in a large settlement meant to provide for her future rehabilitative and other needs and to supplement the insurance coverage she had at the time covering her injuries.
She could not feed herself or swallow, so was on intravenous feeding and hydration, and was "light" responsive, if I also remember the reports at the time correctly.
Her husband’s character was brought into question by some of the individuals involved in providing for her needs at the various hospitals and care facilities, and eventually had "moved on" and established a pseudo-marriage with another woman that had resulted in also having a child or children prior to the resolution of Teri’s fate through the Florida and federal court system.
In fact, by the time Teri’s eventual fate was determined, he was in a clear "common law" marriage with another woman, with children at that, and at the very least then an adulterer/"common law" bigamist, and so for all intents and purposes was legally "divorced" from Teri during the final adjudication process.
A guardian was assigned as a supposed "neutral" third party, but who was also being paid from the proceeds of the settlement of Teri’s medical malpractice claim, of which her (ex) husband was trustee.
She had two parents who then challenged the desire of her former husband to have the feeding tubes AND hydration tubes removed (although the press stressed merely the feeding tubes, rather than also hydration, as the basis of the case), who indicated that both financially and personally they would more than willing to provide for whatever additional care Teri would need until her natural death.
She was in her early 40’s, and from all reports a devoted and practicing Catholic (who would never most likely even divorced a spouse due to religious beliefs except according to her Church teachings, nor consented to anything remotely likened to voluntary assisted suicide) when a federal judge in Florida ordered the removal of both the feeding and hydration tubes, whereupon she died 14 days later after literally starving and dehydrating to death.
Karen Quinlan was also raised Catholic.
Two "right to life" cases with the same outcome – death.
One process "natural," the other not so.
And very, very different.