color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: Living and Dying

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Living and Dying

There has been a lot in the news recently about people living and dying. And about who gets to decide who dies, how they die, when they die. Terri Schiavo. The Pope. Karim Hassan. So how are all of these related? The right to die and the right to live.

I have a very strong opinion on euthanasia. I believe that if a person in a state of mental competency has indicated that they do not wish to have extraordinary means taken to prolong their life, then those wishes should be honored. And if a person has not indicated such a wish or has declared specifically that this is not their wish, then we must presume that their intention is to live or prolong life by whatever means available.

I get riled when I hear all these breast-beaters declaring that Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death. Her mental capacity did not permit her to feel hunger or thirst. Her brain did not function on that level any more. To ensure that she did not suffer, she was administered morphine throughout her ordeal. People who cry that it surely was murder base their beliefs on the fact that THEY would not want to die under such circumstances and so assumed that Terri Schiavo would not either. They contorted their beliefs into a mistrust of Michael Schiavo’s motives. But it was not his testimony alone as to Terri’s wishes. A half dozen of her friends also testified that she had made her wishes known to them. 28 state and federal courts -- TWENTY‑EIGHT -- reviewed the law, the testimony and the legality – and every single one of the 28 courts ruled that Terri Schiavo did not wish to live in a persistent vegetative state and did not want medical intervention to prolong her life in such state. She would have died long ago were it not for the extraordinary measures of the feeding tube. She decided how she wanted to live and under what conditions. Her husband was simply left to ensure her wishes were followed. As will mine if the time comes that such a decision need be made. And I won't be Terry Schiavo or a Christopher Reeves.

And, as every news station ad nauseum has told us, the Pope is dead. I am certain that had the Pope asked to be taken to the hospital, and had it been his wish, they could have kept him alive by artificial means for a very long time. Instead, he chose to die at the time the Lord decreed and without extraordinary life-sustaining measures. The Pope decided under what conditions he wanted to live and under what conditions he wanted to die. And his wishes were honored.

As for Karim Hassan, he was a suspected Iraqi terrorist shot and gravely wounded in a gun battle with Army soldiers in May 2004. The medic on the scene, upon seeing the horrific and probably fatal wounds, declared to his commanding officer Captain Maynulet, “There’s nothing I can do.” Believing in his heart that the Iraqi was suffering and about to endure a painful death, Capt. Maynulet drew his weapon and shot Karim Hassan in the head, killing him. The captain was court-martialed last week and found guilty of assault with the intent to commit voluntary manslaughter. Capt. Maynulet was given a dishonorable discharge (dismissal) but will not serve prison time. There are two automatic appeals in such cases and there is still a chance that the conviction or the sentence may be reversed.

I have seen many defend the captain’s actions saying that we should support our military and the decisions they make on the battlefield. I whole-heartedly concur -- when the soldier is in the right, when the soldier believes he/she is in imminent danger, when his/her life is threatened, when it is a decision made in the heat of the battle. And while I know that this fine career soldier truly believed this “mercy killing” was justified, in my opinion, he was wrong. I’m not sure that the punishment isn’t too severe, but I believe what he did was indefensible. He not only doesn’t get to decide who lives or dies in such a circumstance, but he was prohibited from doing so.

When the captain shot the prisoner, he was not in imminent danger and was not under fire or threat from this combatant. At the time of the incident, Capt. Maynulet was in command of his unit and was charged with the safety of enemy prisoners of war (EPW) which Karim Hassan clearly was. Enemy combatant? Yes, absolutely, right up until the time he was wounded and came into the custody of US troops. Then the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and the Geneva Convention are clear:

THE LAW OF LAND WARFARE, Chapter 4, Section II (Wounded and Sick), 215. Protection and Care states, in pertinent part:

“Members of the armed forces and other persons mentioned in the following Article, who are wounded or sick, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances. They shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict in whose power they may be, without any adverse distinction founded on sex, race, nationality, religion, political opinions, or any other similar criteria. Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited; in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated, subjected to torture or to biological experiments; they shall not willfully be left without medical assistance and care…”

All soldiers carry a ROE card that states what they are allowed to do with regard to the use of force. Soldiers are also briefed and schooled on the ROE and are expected to know them. This was not a newbie private. This was a captain in the United States Army… well-trained, well-schooled with more than 10 years of experience in the Army.

Capt. Maynulet believes his decision was moral, if not legal. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to make that distinction. The captain admitted during his court martial that he had “projected himself” into the situation of the Iraqi and knew that he (the captain) would not want to live with such grievous injuries, so he ended the Iraqi’s suffering by ending his life. Unlike the Schiavo case, the prisoner did not ask to have his life or his suffering ended. That the prisoner would likely have died anyway is of no consequence in the argument. Capt. Maynulet could not have known that with any degree of medical certainty, and the medic on the scene while trained to treat battlefield injuries, was not trained to make such evaluations. Capt. Maynulet did not order the medic to treat the injured combatant; did not call for an evacuation; did not call a superior officer or medical superior for guidance. All the things his training required him to do. He did the one thing he was prohibited from doing.
As I said, absent a clear directive one way or the other, no one else should have the right to decide when someone critically ill or injured is going to die.
Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.


At 4/06/2005 12:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soldier's Mom, I haven't posted to you in a while, but I've been reading your blog. Please know your soldier is in my prayers. My soldier is in Ft. Knox after 16 months over there, so I have plenty of room in my heart for those whose children are still in the sandbox.
I always enjoy your commentary, but I think we are diametrically opposed politically, since I am a proud liberal and think our nation has been hoodwinked by those in power.
But I agree with everything you've written concerning life & death. I could not have phrased it better myself. So either I'm becoming more conservative (lord forbid) or you're becoming more liberal? Please don't become ill, I'm just kidding. Peace to you. Keep on keepin' on. Peg

At 4/07/2005 7:38 AM , Blogger Call Me Grandma said...

The only thing that bothered me with Terri Schiavo is that her husband started to live with another woman. I think after he had two children with this woman, he could not possibly have had Terri's best interest at heart. I think the new woman and children gave him a conflict of interest.

At 4/07/2005 2:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terri's husband getting on with his life did not bother me. I have worked in long-term care, and I dare say 99.9% of the spouses do just that. I do think those parents should "be shot" for dragging her death out 15 years. If this was even just 100 years ago, she would have died 15 years ago. End of story.

At 4/12/2005 12:15 PM , Blogger Bruce Wiseley said...

Hi Mom, Armydoc here;
I guess our opinions are awarded to us for living so long, and also by the many experiences we've lived, good and bad, and I agree with the three items you opined in your latest Blog. As a Nurse, I have had a patient sigh a DNR, only to have the same document dis-avowed by the Family immediately after the signing patient became unable to make any decisions. The DNR can be revoked by anyone who is listed on the advanced health care directives. when we encountered this circumstance, we Nurses would do what is called a "Slow Code", thereby abiding by the wishes of the patient, and not the Family who usually would have trouble letting the patient go! I hope your Family is well.

On another note, I took your advice and sent my stories into a publisher, and I am waiting to hear from their editor. Thanks for the tip.


At 4/15/2005 5:34 PM , Blogger Stacy said...

I was trying to post to your most recent blog also, and the comments are not showing on it. It is just on the last two post. I have pulled my blog up, and it has the spot for you to post now. Not sure what is going on.

At 12/29/2005 7:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Army mom:

I am writing my thesis on mercy killings, and I was the lawyer that defended CPT Maynulet.

It was an impossible situation, and some of your facts are in error -- he did order care for the insurgent, he could not order an evacuation b/c it was a hot zone and his superiors would not authorized it, his medic said the insurgent was going to die in a matter of time -- and with that he decided to end the suffering of the insurgent.

I am unsure where I fall on the moral issues, but to do know that is a crime, without a doubt. But sometimes things should be granted leniency, as it was in CPT Maynulets case.

He is a true hero, and did more for the war effort than any single individual I know (not this incident).


At 12/29/2005 7:28 PM , Blogger Some Soldier's Mom said...

Major H, Thank you for commenting. My facts (un/fortunately) are what could be gleened from many MSM accounts of the incident as well as the reported testimonies at the proceeding. As I said, I believed Capt. M was a fine career soldier with an otherwise stellar record... and I also said I believed that, given the circumstances, the punishment was too severe. I also read the accounts of the testimony of his men who declared the type of leader Capt M. was -- and that alone made me believe that this incident was that momentary lapse in judgment -- albeit for all the right reasons.

That being said, would Capt. M. have been brought up on charges had he allowed the prisoner to suffer such a prolonged and painful death? A true conundrum -- to end the suffering of a mortally wounded man and be charged or to let him suffer? Not the first time asked, not the first time unanswered.


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