Editor’s note: The following article is by Diana Lynne, author of a powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, entitled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.” This latest WND Books release is now available at WorldNetDaily’s online store.
He says he wants to live. But his wife, caregivers and South Carolina state officials are so focused on carrying out a decade-old, out-of-state living will that 79-year-old Jimmy Chambers can’t get a word in edgewise.
That’s the account of 10 of Chambers’s children and their spouses who signed sworn affidavits in an attempt to block their mother from removing his life-sustaining ventilator, which would cause his death.
It’s a case that’s reminiscent of the Terri Schiavo controversy which captured the attention of millions around the world, in which a fault line opened up in the middle of a formerly close-knit family, splitting it into pieces over whether to end a loved one’s life or allow them to live.
“Our family has meant everything to all of us for all these years. We never thought we’d be in this place,” Deanna Potter, one of the children seeking to preserve her father’s life, told WND.
The ordeal began August 20 in Naples, Florida, when the “active” and “vibrant” Chambers hopped on a riding lawnmower to help out with his son’s yard work. Chambers apparently took his eyes off the road briefly and by the time he fixed his gaze back forward, a hefty tree limb struck him and bent him backwards over the seat of the mower. He was found sometime later lying unconscious on the ground.
Chambers suffered a broken back, a spinal chord injury and a torn aorta. Doctors didn’t think he would survive the emergency room. He surprised them.
“You just can’t keep him down,” Potter marveled. “My father had polio when he was younger and his legs were weakened by that, so he was getting to the point where he couldn’t walk for any period of time. But he was always active and looking for things to do. He has a couple of those scooters and scooted all over where he lives.”
Two days after the accident, doctors performed surgery and succeeded in repairing Chambers’s back, but determined he had become paraplegic. Spinal shock left him dependent on a ventilator, and a gastric feeding tube was inserted into his abdomen.
The prognosis was grim. Doctors weren’t sure whether the Yuma, Arizona, resident would ever be able to come off of the ventilator and feeding tube.
That’s when the family unity cracked.
Divided over life, death
Chambers’s wife of 58 years, Viola, and one daughter began advocating removal of the ventilator and ending his life, according to Potter. Mrs. Chambers presented a living will her husband signed in 1990 when the couple lived in Iowa. The document indicated that should he have an “incurable or irreversible condition that will result either in death within a relatively short period of time” it was his desire that his life not be prolonged by the administration of life-sustaining procedures.
Chambers did not designate a power of attorney or anyone to serve as medical decision maker in the event of his incapacitation. He has not been declared incapacitated, however, so the family decided to put the life-or-death question to him.
On September 8, after having been off morphine and other mind-altering drugs for 10 hours, the family assembled in Chambers’s room at Naples Community Hospital. Present were Viola Chambers, 10 children and Chambers’s treating physician, Dr. Kenneth Bookman.
“We all believed that daddy would elect to discontinue the ventilator,” Potter told WND. “I went there with the determination that if that’s what he chose, I would support him and stand there and love him and not leave that room until he left us.”
Again, Chambers surprised them.
“He was asked specifically if he wanted to stay on the ventilator and his answer was ‘yes,’” wrote Bookman in a notarized letter documenting the event, a copy of which was supplied to WND.
“He was asked if he understood that he would likely never go home again, and would likely live in a ventilator facility, on the ventilator, for the rest of his life and his answer was, ‘yes,’” Bookman’s letter continued. “He was asked if he wanted to be removed from the ventilator and his answer was ‘no.’ He was asked if he understood that he would die if he would be removed from the ventilator and his answer was, ‘yes.’”
Bookman states he felt that Chambers was off of sedation and aware enough to comprehend and make decisions regarding life support.
What reportedly happened next shocked Potter: “When my father said that he wanted to live and he wanted to be treated, my mother said to him in very emphatic tones, ‘Jim, do you really want to live in this body? Don’t you want to go to heaven and be with Jerry?’ He’s my younger brother who died. And she said it twice. And the room absolutely went nuts. Everybody was outraged that she was trying to talk him into dying. … He just stared at her as if she lost her mind. He didn’t respond at all.”
When contacted by WND, Viola Chambers declined to comment.
According to Iowa law, a living will “may be revoked in any manner by which the Declarant is able to communicate the Declarant’s intent to evoke.”
Bookman, Potter and her siblings considered the Iowa living will revoked and transferred Chambers two weeks later to Anne Maria Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a facility that specializes in rehabilitating ventilator patients, in North Augusta, South Carolina.
‘Revoked’ living will lives on
According to documents filed with the court, Chambers’s new treating physician, Dr. Nicholas Sanito, found Chambers “awake, alert and interactive” during an examination on September 26.
“He shakes my hands. He was trying to speak, but I couldn’t read his lips all that well,” Sanito wrote.
Another assessment completed of Chambers on Sept. 28 by Angie Beverly, the activities director at the facility, found Chambers could see, hear and comprehend and that he “tried to communicate.”
“He could sometimes make himself understood and … tried to use tools, such as a white board and marker and a magnetic letter board to communicate. He wrote a letter on the white board, although it took tremendous effort. He has a strong desire to communicate,” Beverly concluded, according to a synopsis of the assessment provided to WND.
Viola Chambers, however, informed Sanito and the nursing staff about the Iowa living will and a Do- Not-Resuscitate order and acted to enforce both. Potter asserts her mother requests morphine and another drug be dispensed to her father in such a way that he is infrequently sober enough to communicate and ordered the removal of all communication devices from his room, including his nurse call button.
Mrs. Chambers also denied her husband medical treatment for pneumonia and ordered he only be given “comfort care,” according to Potter.
The nursing home administrator, Marcy Drewry, was unavailable for comment.
While their father’s lungs slowly filled with fluid and his extremities began to swell, Potter and her siblings mobilized to save his life, which meant knocking heads with their own mother.
“I can only say that she is not well,” Potter said, adding that she believes her mother suffers from the adult version of the mental health disorder, Munchausen by Proxy. “She’s on a mission now. I don’t think there will be any reasoning with her in this process. The power is simply going to have to be taken from her hands.”
Following South Carolina law, the nursing home staff considers Viola Chambers to be the person with the authority over the patient and the person they need to answer to. The Adult Health-Care Consent Act gives the spouse the highest priority to make medical decisions in the absence of a health-care power of attorney.
After Potter and her siblings filed a police report accusing their mother of “elder abuse,” the state agency designated by the Department of Social Services to investigate such complaints looked into the matter. Susan Garen, the regional Long Term Care Ombudsman, confirmed Viola Chambers had the authority to direct her husband’s care. After consulting with the State Long Term Care Ombudsman, Jon Cook, Garen concluded no investigation would be done.
“Mr. Cook determined that it is not within the scope of the long term care ombudsman to determine if the decisions made by the medical decision maker were in the best interest of the resident or not,” Garen wrote in an October 6 report.
“No agency gets involved in family disputes. If there is a family dispute then we ask that they settle that in court to determine guardianship,” Cook told WND. “On cases where there’s a legal representative, we really have to do what they say. Especially when there’s a living will that hasn’t been revoked.”
When WND informed Cook that family members assert the living will was revoked, he replied: “That’s up in the air. I haven’t seen anything that says it’s revoked. Nobody can prove it is. That’s why I wanted the probate court to handle that. We just can’t get involved.”
The hands-off approach to the case by state agencies charged with the responsibility of advocating on behalf of the vulnerable was similarly experienced by those seeking to preserve Terri Schiavo’s life.
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Dispute lands in court
On October 6, Randall Chambers filed an emergency petition seeking appointment as temporary guardian of his father. Six days later, according to court documents, Viola Chambers countered with her own petition.
“As his wife of 58 years, I am far more intimately aware of my husband’s wishes and desires as it pertains to his health-care treatment than any of my children,” stated Viola Chambers in the petition. “I therefore object to the appointment of my son, Randall Chambers, as temporary Guardian for my husband as his appointment will undermine and deprive my husband of the health care he wishes and desires and which he has expressed to me on many occasions and also in writing.”
The court appointed an independent guardian ad litem, Paige Weeks Johnson, to investigate the case and make a recommendation to the court on behalf of Chambers. In her preliminary report, Johnson recommended the court order the ventilator and feeding tube not be removed until further order of the court, and until she has the opportunity to speak with the treating physician. Still, the authority to make other treatment decisions rests with Viola Chambers.
As their father crept closer to death in the absence of antibiotics, according to Potter, the siblings trained their sights on the treating physician at the nursing home. They faxed him a letter asserting their mother had breached her fiduciary responsibility to their father. They attached Bookman’s letter along with the 10 affidavits from family members all swearing Chambers had revoked the living will and wanted to live.
“We told the doctor, ‘We will sue you if anything happens to our father.’ We believe that has gotten him to be a little more involved,” said Potter.
Chambers was subsequently transported to the hospital where he is now receiving treatment for the pneumonia. Meanwhile, the guardianship battle continues.
“I can’t believe what you have to come up with in order to preserve this life – this vibrant, strong man who wants to live,” said Potter. “It’s incredible.”
Diana Lynne’s powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, entitled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.” is now available at WorldNetDaily’s online store.