Precinct 333

Saturday, February 26, 2005

One Who Gets It

The Terri Schiavo case is one of those that no one would want to have to deal with. End of life decisions are inherrantly difficult, and in this case the individual who claims the right to make the decision on behalf of his stricken wife is the individual who has nothing to lose and everything to gain, while those who seek to keep her alive have nothing to gain but will lose the thing they hold most precious. John Grogan of the Philadelphia Inquirer has a great coulumn in which he explains why he has shifted from supporting Michael Schiavo to supporting Terri's parents.

That's not to say I have changed my opinion about the right of all of us to die with dignity when life has lost all meaning. But for Terri Schiavo, who lingers in a Florida nursing home, the devil is in the details, uncomfortable details that raise sticky moral dilemmas.

Detail 1: Terry Schiavo is not dying. She is not being kept alive artificially. Her heart beats and lungs breathe without help. She cannot swallow food or water. Once the feeding tube is removed, she would slowly starve to death over days or weeks.

Detail 2: Schiavo is not comatose. Her eyes open, and she sometimes responds to stimuli. Doctors say there is no brain activity and her responses are simply reflexive. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, want to believe otherwise.

Detail 3: The Schindlers think their daughter could benefit from physical therapy and might someday swallow on her own, but her husband, as her legal guardian, reportedly will not allow it. Which leads to an equally uncomfortable question: If Schiavo merely required spoon feeding instead of tube feeding, would anyone seriously be arguing to withhold food and water? Does not every human, no matter how incapacitated, deserve sustenance?

Detail 4: Unproven allegations that Schiavo might have suffered physical trauma immediately before her heart stopped for several minutes in 1990, leading to brain damage, have not been fully investigated. The Schindlers have long suggested their son-in-law strangled their daughter; Michael Schiavo's lawyer says the abuse allegations have never been substantiated. Before pulling the plug on this woman, don't these questions need to be fully answered?

The abuse allegations against Michael Schiavo may be nothing but scurrilous rumor spread to damage his credibility. But what if there is even a tiny chance he is guilty of abuse? Should such a person be in a position to decide this life-and-death issue?

Michael Schiavo won a huge judgement in court that was meant to care for her for the rest of her life. He promised to do so. During the trial he claimed that his wife needed therapy, and that the money would enable her to recieve it. Terri never got a day of the promised therapy, and Michael quickly sought to cut off sustenance (not treatment, but food and water) based upon Terri's supposed wish to be allowed to die. Strangely enough, Michael didn't disclose that when he was seeking a court award to do exatly the opposite.

Ultimately, the question is one of what is best for Terri. Either she should be allowed to live on to the end of her natural life, or she should be hastened to death via starvation and dehydration. If someone did such a thing to an animal, they would be branded a monster. When such things were done to Jews during WWII, the perpetrators were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. How, then, can there be any doubt about the morally and legally correct decision.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.