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 WND Books release is available at WorldNetDaily’s online store.
“I thought a living will only took effect when a person was unable to speak for himself?”
That’s the burning question in the minds of many participating in an online debate on FreeRepublic.com over the “suspicious” death of a 79-year-old nursing home patient and the familial tug-of-war over his life that preceded it.
“People who think that living wills are a panacea just don’t get it. They can be used against you, too. This case just illustrates that sad and terrible reality,” commented one individual with the online ID Ohioan from Florida.
The thread of discussion has continued daily since WorldNetDaily exclusively reported on the tussle over Jimmy Chambers Oct. 20. The “active” and “vibrant” Yuma, Ariz., man landed in Naples Community Hospital in Naples, Fla., Aug. 20 after colliding with a tree limb while riding a lawnmower in his son’s yard. Chambers suffered a broken back, a spinal chord injury and a torn aorta.
Doctors performed surgery and succeeded in repairing Chambers’ 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.
Chambers’ family was bitterly divided over whether to keep him connected to the life-sustaining ventilator or disconnect it.
Viola Chambers asserted her husband of 58 years, who signed a living will in Iowa in 1990, did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. Ten other family members – including four of his five children – and his initial treating physician signed sworn statements that Chambers himself indicated he wanted to stay on the ventilator, receive rehabilitative therapy and live. They say he communicated this by nodding his head “yes” and “no” to questions put to him during a Sept. 8 family meeting witnessed by 13 people in his hospital room.
The physician and 10 family members considered the Iowa living will revoked and transferred Chambers two weeks later to Anne Maria Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in North Augusta, S.C., a facility that specializes in rehabilitating ventilator patients.
Viola Chambers, however, ignored the outcome of the Sept. 8 meeting and informed her husband’s new treating physician, Dr. Nicholas Sanito, and the nursing home staff about the Iowa living will and obtained Sanito’s signature on a Do-Not-Resuscitate order, or DNR, according to court documents.
After battling back from a two-week bout of pneumonia, for which he received treatment only after a court-appointed guardian ad litem intervened and his children threatened to sue Sanito, Chambers died in the early morning hours of Oct. 24. He suffocated after the tracheotomy tubes that delivered oxygen from a ventilator became unhooked. Family members were told Chambers himself apparently pulled the interlocking tubes apart.
The nursing home staff failed to respond to the alarms that should have sounded from the ventilator and the oxygen-saturation meter, and no resuscitation efforts were made.
Was the staff abiding by the DNR? Citing patient confidentiality, nursing home administrator Marcy Drewry declined comment.
Family members have called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death.
“Boy, we’re angry,” Chambers’ daughter, Deanna Potter, told WND. “I want to know if somebody killed him. Because I just can’t believe they wouldn’t hear two different alarms. It would take him probably 10 or 12 or 14 minutes before he would not be conscious.”
Potter said when she last saw her father approximately 10 hours before he died, he blew her a kiss. During that visit, according to Potter, her father was lucid and reaffirmed his desire to live and pursue therapy with “a big thumb’s up.”
“He was very animated and very communicative in his quiet sort of way. Smiling, nodding ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ He was incredible,” Potter recalled.
According to court documents, Sanito also found Chambers “awake, alert and interactive” during an examination Sept. 26.
“He shakes my hands. He was trying to speak, but I couldn’t read his lips all that well,” Sanito wrote in a report of the exam supplied to WND.
“If the man can talk and is lucid and said he wants to remain alive, how is there even any discussion?” queried “Mr. Blonde” in the online forum prior to Chambers’ death.
“Give them enough sedation, and they aren’t able to speak for themselves,” responded “PAR35.” “[That's] one reason I won’t sign a living will or an organ donor card.”
In fact, Potter and her brothers assert their mother ordered morphine, ativan and benadryl dispensed in such a way that Chambers was rarely awake. Guardian ad litem Paige Weeks Johnson noted in a preliminary report she found him unresponsive to his wife and daughter’s attempts to rouse him during her visit last month.
“I believe all parties would agree that Mr. Chambers is incapacitated at this time,” Johnson wrote. “However, the Petitioner is of the opinion that if the ativan, benadryl and morphine were withdrawn that Mr. Chambers would again be able to make his own medical decisions.”
Johnson recommended the judge order the ventilator and feeding tube remain in place until further order of the court, and until she had the opportunity to speak with Sanito.
Mrs. Chambers has repeatedly declined to comment to WND.
Following South Carolina law, the regional Long Term Care Ombudsman affirmed Mrs. Chambers was her husband’s decision maker, since he had not designated a health power of attorney.
“Living wills keep the document alive but kill the signer even if they change their mind,” observed “floriduh voter.” “Paper versus person. Paper wins.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that others’ change of mind/heart has been ignored,” ventured “cycjec.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that is the case, reports Burke Balch, director of the National Right to Life Committee’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics.
“We’ve heard of a number of circumstances in which people may change their minds or, more frequently, they have signed a document under the impression that it means one thing and are startled to find it has much broader applications,” Balch told WND.
“For example, many states define terminal illness to cover circumstances in which a person will die within a relatively short period of time if treatment is withheld,” Balch continued. “Well, the typical person on the street thinks about terminal illness as when you’re going to die relatively shortly regardless of what the advances of medicine do for you.”
The Iowa living will Chambers signed states that should he have an “incurable or irreversible condition that will result either in death within a relatively short period of time or a permanent state of unconsciousness” it was his desire that his life not be prolonged by the administration of life-sustaining procedures.
Death was not considered imminent, however. And when Chambers was taken off the morphine and ativan days before he died, family members – including Viola Chambers – found him conscious.
Are doctors and nurses even reading the living wills?
“There’s a lot of evidence in medical journals that, for example, if a nursing staff or hospital staff is aware of the fact that there’s an advance directive, very frequently they don’t even look at the advance directive to see what it says. They just assume, ‘Well that means the person wants nothing done, only comfort care,’” said Balch.
Still, the initial question remains.
“There was never a need for anyone to speak for him,” Chambers’ granddaughter wrote on the FreeRepublic thread under the ID kalintabby. “He asked if rehab was an option, and it was. He needed to know if he would be vent-dependent for life; he was told it was a possibility. He agreed that he wanted to attempt [rehab]. … Why haven’t people upheld his own will? We can’t figure that out.”
At least one blogger has taken action after learning of Chambers’ story.
“I just went and tore up my living will/advanced directives until I figure out how to guarantee that I can stay in control of MY life,” wrote “LibSnubber.”
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 available at WorldNetDaily’s online store.