A Living Will
Reacting to the Terri Schiavo case, our columnist clarifies what his loved ones should do if he ever becomes incapacitated


By Gersh Kuntzman


Updated: 4:35 p.m. ET March 28, 2005

March 28 - As I was watching Terri Schiavo waste away last week, I had this thought: Not me. No way. If I'm ever like that, pull the tube out of me.

I expressed this opinion to my wife. But if we've learned anything from the Terri Schiavo case, it's that such verbal contracts end up not being worth the air they're written on. After all, Terri Schiavo apparently made such a comment to her brother-in-law at the funeral of a brain-dead family member who had been kept alive despite a Do Not Resuscitate order.

"Not me. No way," Schiavo told her brother-in-law, according to testimony he gave sometime during the seemingly endless court battle over Schiavo's death. "If I'm ever like that, pull the tube out of me."

I've made the same comments to my parents and to friends many times over the years. But I know that the minute I'm stricken with a brain-wasting disease or suffer a fatal heart attack that turns my cerebral cortex into gray mush, some "friend" I haven't seen since third grade is going to tell Larry King that I cried when Bambi's mother got shot—clear evidence that I considered life more important than anything else. And then there was that time when another friend made fun of a coonskin cap I used to wear when I was 8. "I'd rather be dead than wear that hat," he said. My witty retort? "Oh yeah? Well, I'd rather wear it then be dead!" I'd hate to have that comment be seen as a) an indication that no matter how bad I looked, I'd choose life or b) that I was not funny as a kid. And the Bambi thing? Can we just forget that already?

So here it is, folks, something more concrete than a comment whispered to my wife during a rerun of that classic, made-for-TV movie "In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan" about a couple struggling to decide the future of their comatose daughter. Yes, I realize that stuff written on the Web has the life expectancy of a doughnut in a police stationhouse, but I'm so sure that many of you are going to print out this column, scrawl, "Yeah! This is how I feel, too!" and send it to relatives all over the country that I'm comfortable that it will hold up in court. So, if I am ever incapacitated and anyone wants to know what my real intentions were, here they are:

If I am brain-dead in a hospital and the only thing keeping me alive is a breathing tube, pull it out. And this applies—are you listening, Dad?—even if there's only one minute left in the Super Bowl and the Jets are way ahead. Yes, I've sat through three decades of Jet games in the winter to see the day when they finally win the championship; but if I'm brain dead, I didn't live to see it. Pull the plug.

If my brain has decayed from Alzheimer's Disease and I can no longer recognize people I've known for 30 years, even ones who sign my paycheck, pull the plug. And this applies—are you listening, Tom DeLay?—even if the Republican-led Congress passes a law to save me. I wouldn't want to be the reason that the Republican Party abandons its once-sacrosanct belief in states' rights. Not for little ol' me.

If I'm in a coma and am unresponsive to medical treatment, put an overdose of sleeping pills through my IV. And this applies even if The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks starts wringing his hands over the "two serious, but flawed arguments" pitting the "Let Gersh live!" side against the "Let Gersh die!" side. I do not want to be the cause of yet another of David Brooks's earnest moral quandaries.

If I've been in a car accident, have lost several limbs and my pupils are fixed and dilated, stop giving me medication. Just because I changed my daughter's diaper for three years doesn't mean I want her to return the favor.

If I've lost the ability to function at above an eighth-grade level, don't allow anyone to take video footage of me. I do not want the Senate Majority Leader diagnosing me from his office in Washington. He wouldn't meet with me when I had that misshapen mole that I thought was cancer, so why should I listen to his medical advice now?

If I'm in a persistent vegetative state and have no brain function, please cut off my nourishment and water. This applies even if Randall Terry has a press conference at my hospital saying that only God can determine when it's time for someone to die. I do not want Randall Terry to get in a bitter custody battle with God over me—Lord knows (I mean He really knows) when it's time for me to die.

So there you have it: my living will. Let's see some judge find a loophole in this one. Oh, and one more thing: Please run the obituary I wrote for myself—the one that's saved in the "My Funeral" folder on my Windows desktop. Sure, the glowing tributes from Nelson Mandela, Bob Dylan and Woody Allen are made up, but we all know they would have said nice things about me if they'd met me. Met me when I was alive, I mean.

Gersh Kuntzman is also a reporter for The New York Post. Check out his rudimentary website at http://www.gersh.tv

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.