The case of Terri Schiavo demonstrates the need for a provision in divorce law allowing the families of patients who are medically unable to file for a divorce to apply for a divorce on behalf of the patient in certain circumstances. A person shouldn’t lose the right to seek a divorce by reason of a medical condition that prevents the individual from acting on his or her own behalf.
One ground for such a divorce would be if the patient’s spouse was arrested and charged with abusing the patient. Obviously an abusive spouse should not be allowed to make decisions on behalf of the victim of the abuse. The family would not need to wait for a conviction because to do so could lead to harm to the patient. An arrest would be sufficient grounds for a court to grant a divorce for abuse. The family would have the option, in the event the spouse was not arrested, of presenting evidence of abuse to a judge when requesting a divorce.
Adultery would also be grounds for divorce because the patient, if capable of acting on his or her own behalf, might seek a divorce on such grounds. A spouse shouldn’t be able to take advantage of a patient by being able to inherit from the patient while having a sexual relationship with someone else. In this case the patient is a victim even if the spouse wasn’t responsible for the patient’s condition. The family would only need to establish that adultery occurred for the court to be required to grant a divorce.
Other grounds for divorce, such as conviction of the spouse for a felony, might also be provided for. In any case, the state would assume responsibility for monitoring the handling of the patient’s assets by the family to insure that the assets are used to benefit the patient rather than the family.
If Terri Schiavo were able to act on her own behalf she could divorce her husband because he is maintaining a relationship with another woman by whom he has had a child. She shouldn’t lose the right to obtain a divorce simply because her medical condition prevents her from communicating such a desire to a judge.