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April 9, 2005
Starving The Inconvenient, Part II

As predicted, after Terri Schiavo's court-ordered death by dehydration, the process has repeated itself in LaGrange, Georgia. Only in this case, not only is Ora Mae Magouirk not terminal, the relative demanding her death isn't the next of kin -- but she found a judge to order the withdrawal of food and water in defiance of Magouirk's living will:

As WND reported, Magouirk was neither terminally ill, comatose, nor in a persistent vegetative state, when Hospice-LaGrange, in LaGrange, Ga., accepted her as a patient upon the request of her granddaughter, Elizabeth ("Beth") Gaddy, 36, of Hoganville, Ga. Also upon Gaddy's request, the Hospice began withholding food and water from the patient.

When she learned of this, Magouirk's sister Lonnie Ruth Mullinax, 74, of Birmingham, and her brother, A.B. McLeod, 64, of Anniston, Ala., protested and attempted to have their sister removed from the hospice and transported to UAB Medical Center for treatment. However, Gaddy and her brother, Michael Shane Magouirk, obtained an emergency injunction from Troup County Probate Judge Douglas Boyd to prevent the planned air transport.

In her petition Gaddy argued that "irreparable harm" would occur to Magouirk if she were removed from Hospice.

Ken Mullinax hoped that publicity about the case would result in a feeding tube being inserted so she could begin receiving nourishment, but he told WorldNetDaily this has not happened.

WorldNetDaily has not been able to verify if food is still being denied, but if it is it would be in contradiction of the courts ruling.

This outcome precisely mirrors the prediction that critics of Florida's actions in the Schiavo case argued. The courts have gone from an presumption of life in absence of compelling evidence of a patient's wishes to the contrary to a presumption of death in the Schiavo case, and in Magouirk's case, a presumption of death despite the patient's expressed wishes. According to WND's initial report on April 7th, Magouirk gave specific instructions about the withdrawal of food and water:

In her living will, Magouirk stated that fluids and nourishment were to be withheld only if she were either comatose or "vegetative," and she is neither. Nor is she terminally ill, which is generally a requirement for admission to a hospice. ...

The dehydration is being done in defiance of Magouirk's specific wishes, which she set down in a "living will," and without agreement of her closest living next-of-kin, two siblings and a nephew: A. Byron McLeod, 64, of Anniston, Ga.; Ruth Mullinax, 74, of Birmingham, Ala.; and Ruth Mullinax's son, Ken Mullinax.

None of this moved probate Judge Donald Boyd, who stepped into the case as Magouirk's granddaughter was found to have misrepresented herself as holding a medical power of attorney in order to get Magouirk admitted to the hospice. Beth Gaddy held a financial power of attorney, but had no authority to contradict Magouirk's living will -- and she certainly is not Magouirk's closest living relative. However, Boyd issued a temporary order giving Gaddy guardianship over her grandmother over the objections of her other kin, and that order prevents them from taking Magouirk to a hospital that could possibly treat and cure her aortic dissection (the same condition that killed John Ritter), perhaps even without surgery.

According to WND, no one is sure whether hydration and nutrition have been restored, as the family hs requested. Both had been initially withheld starting on March 28th, then reinstated later that week. Last weekend, Gaddy won the guardianship temporarily in Boyd's court and had both removed. As we have seen, it won't be long before Magouirk dies from dehydration unless her family can undo what Boyd and Gaddy did last week.

Why would the probate judge overrule Magouirk's living will and the objections of closer relatives in favor of a granddaughter who wants to kill Magouirk? It again demonstrates a preference and presumption of death for those people we find inconvenient. In the Schiavo case, we heard repeatedly that the big lesson was to draft a living will, but in this case -- if WND has its facts straight -- a living will does no good in the courtroom.

No, the lesson we should have taken from the Schiavo case is that our courts and our society has taken a utilitarian view of human life, one that measures value by the scale of the young and healthy. Beth Gaddy asked, "Who would want to live like this?" According to Ora Mae's own living will, she would -- and no enlightened society should presume to end Magouirk's life in defiance of that wish. Boyd's action in probate court -- an odd place to get this kind of judgment for a living person -- shows not so much a judicial bias towards utilitarianism, but a reflection of the utilitarianism that pervades Western societies as a whole. Euthanasia of the willing has led to euthanasia of the uncertain, and now in Magouirk's case, euthanasia of the completely unwilling.

When will we put an end to the presumption of death? We need to press our representatives to codify a presumption of life into our laws so that judges must err on the side of medical treatment, especially when it amounts to nothing more than food and water. To kill our citizens by denying them the basics of life for no other reason than we find them inconvenient is not progress; it's a return to the eugenics movements of the 1930s and a warped and twisted notion of the value of human life.

UPDATE: Blogs for Terri reports that Magouirk has been airlifted this afternoon to a hospital and that her hydration and nourishment has been restored. For those who question the reliability of WND -- which may be a reasonable reaction -- B4T has been corresponding with some of the principals in the case. As always, YMMV.

UPDATE II: Tom Maguire has some interesting questions about this case. Is the nephew a Democratic operative? And if he is, does it make any difference? Also, check out this report by an Atlanta news station. It appears to dispute some of the elements of the WND articles:

Judge Boyd called Mullinax's charges completely false and said all relatives agreed to let three doctors decide what was next for Magouirk. He said that everyone was happy with the compromise.

They were hugging necks, and, as far as I knew, the family was fine, the judge said. ...

Bloggers from the Schiavo case heated up the Internet and swamped the judge's phones and computer with what he said are wildly false charges.

I've even been accused several times of murder and I've had, I would say, close to a hundred e-mails, Boyd said.

The CEO of the West Georgia Health System told 11Alive News, "No patient at our hospice is denied food or water."

So Dafydd ab Hugh's skepticism in this case was warranted -- or at least, we don't have all the pieces of this story yet. However, if the woman wasn't terminal, we can at least point out that hospice would be an inappropriate venue for her treatment.

When more gets published, I'll be sure to link to it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 9, 2005 1:10 PM

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» Transcript of Glenn Beck Interview with Ken Mullinax from Illuminaria's Voice
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