Monday, March 21, 2005

Michael: On Terri Schiavo

Terri at her wedding

The worst laws are made in emergencies, when there is no time for deliberation or reflection, and voices of dissent and caution are quashed. We saw perhaps the definitive example of this principle with the passage of the PATRIOT Act. The new law which Bush signed at 1 a.m. last night to ‘save’ the life of Terri Schiavo may be another example. The new Federal law gives parents the right to challenge a cessation of life support in federal court.

This scenario has already played through in FL, with the FL legislature passing an emergency Terri’s bill giving Governor Bush the power to issue a order to re-instate nutrition and hydration to Terri. But it was found to be an unconstitutional invasion of the separation of powers for the Governor to try to overturn an order of the court. I have little doubt that eventually the same will happen at the Federal level. It is in the interest of those backing Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, to cause as much Constitutional havoc as possible for political gain. These people are certainly not conservatives. The States have already decided that, when there is no indication of the wishes of the patient, the power to decide life and death lies with the spouse. Those who are fighting Michael Schiavo on this have no respect for the institution of marriage or the power of the States to decide matters concerning marriage.

Senator Bill Frist viewed a brief video tape of Terry to reach his conclusion that she might recover and that he knows better than Michael and Terri’s doctors what is proper. Frist is a doctor, but he is not acting like one. If he were, his decision would reflect that no one, out of as many as 35,000 cases, has ever recovered after more than 3 months in a state such as Terri’s. The autonomic responses displayed by a person in Terri’s state can include laughter, crying, smiling, even squeezing a hand, all with the eyes open and moving around, which can give lay people and even unspecialized medical professionals false hope as to the mental state of the patient. Congress failed to take any sort of expert testimony in crafting the bill, which might have made it useful law. As it is, it is the mirror-image of a bill of attainder: a bill benefitting just one person. Having no real evidence beyond polling figures, Congress has wrought an injustice against Terri by further prolonging and publicizing her death, against her parents by giving them false hopes, and against her husband by impugning his motives and stripping him of his spousal rights.

What is most notable about this act of Congress is that despite being profoundly disrespectful of the institution of marriage, it is led by the self-same hypocrites who style themselves as that institution’s defenders. Michael Schiavo has been maligned as a gold digger and a ghoul, waiting to kill his wife until the legal process rewarded him sufficiently. He has been called cruel and heartless, unwilling to let his wife have a chance at life. But for years Michael Schiavo stood by his wife and hoped for her recovery, even as the medical specialists gave her ever-dwindling odds of doing so. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. Finally, her doctors gave Terri no hope of recovery and he made the decision he was uniquely positioned to know Terri would have wanted him to make; to let her go. At this point, only 1 person in 75,000 would even live as long as Terri has in a persistent vegetative state, and there is no hope at all she might recover. Her neo-cortex now consists mainly of spinal fluid. The misperception of this stark fact by those who protest on her behalf is manifest: they pose the issue as whether Terri should live or die. But she’s already dead except for autonomic responses. She’s no more alive than a hydroencephalitic baby is alive, or than a blastocyst with no brain function. They insist she is handicapped, not dead. Their emotional responses are understandable, but are not the proper foundation for public policy.

The decision to terminate life is a hard one, especially when that life may one day be, or at one point was, a human life. Michael’s must have been a wrenching and profoundly spiritual decision, made with his wife’s best interests and own intentions and values in mind, as only a husband could know them. A decision informed by mutual knowledge so intimate, and so private to the marriage bond should not be overturned, even by parents. But that’s exactly what those ‘defenders’ of the institution of marriage have insisting on doing. Despite the states having already decided that the marital relationship was paramount, they have intruded into this intimate relationship and diluted the bonds of matrimony. In fact, consevative foundations have been quietly supporting the parent’s legal fight for almost twelve years now, to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly millions. They have hoped for, and gotten, the exact naive and gullible reaction from cultural conservatives they calculated they would. I'm sure the Schindlers are good people concerned only for their daughter, but they are being cruelly used in the most cynical way possible for political gain. Even Bush's actions are larded with hypocrisy considering his signing of the Texas law allowing the termination of life support to infants over the objections of parents who can no longer pay for care. These people don't give a fig for life, they only care about contributions and votes.

It is not the picture that conservatives wish to paint: a cabal of well-heeled conservative political operatives and politicians using Terri’s mindless body as a prop in a sick morality play, fueled by conservative foundation cash. But that’s all this is. The fascistic, over-reaching ‘moral’ majority exploiting one couple’s tragedy, and trying to dictate decisions which properly belong within the loving bonds of marriage. Shame on them, and shame on the hypocrites who support them. I hope my wife or I are never so unfortunate as to be mugged by the ‘morals’ of Congress and the culture warriors of the Right if we are ever faced with decisions like those that Michael Schiavo faced.


At 10:03 PM, Blogger Rick Romero, Sr. said...

Great article. Right on target. I see another irony having gone through a life and death journey with my quadriplegic brother. It was then I learned that corporate, political and religious fundamentalists have NO REGARD OR RESPECT for life and family. They will expend all the money and energy it takes to destroy life and family bonds.

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont pretend to know what is right and wrong about this case EXCEPT I have a problem about starving someone to death.It brings back memories of the Holocaust when the Nazis used simular practices. Terri Schiavo's right to die is one matter. Making it so by starvation simply is wrong.

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Michael said...

The idea that Terri will starve to death is erroneous. She will die from the effects of dehydration long before she could starve. The obvious rejoinder is, "Well, just as bad." In fact, that's not true. Death by dehydration is quicker, and, if it had any relevance to Terri's case, nearly painless.

But the overwhelming issue is not that she is 'being starved' or 'being denied water'. The fact is she can't swallow these things. The availability of a medical intervention that CAN continue life, i.e. the feeding tube, implies no moral obligation by Terri to USE such intervention. The courts have all ruled from top to bottom that Terri has expressed, through he husband, her wish to no longer avail herself of such interventions. Morally, she is not being starved to death, she is refusing medical treatment through her family. If I was in Terri's position, I would want the same result.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, do you realize how foolish yes i said foolish what you said dehydration vs starvation.
I stand by what i said earlier, forced starvation/dehydration is wrong wrong wrong,!! do you not get that? We sound like the Nazis in dealing with the enfirm. I am not questioning her right to die, rather than the method. and you are way wrong on that point.
Do this for me, YOU go without any food & water for 3 full days and come back and tell me about it ok?
I think that after that you will be in a more humane frame of mind. We are not 100% sure what she is feeling and anything less than 100% sure is unacceptable.

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Well, that was a quick collision with Godwin's Law. There is nothing foolish about being accurate, even if it is beside the point. In this case, it is. Terri's doctors have certified that she is unable to feel painful stimulus as part of her nuerological evaluation. Even if her death were to occur in a painful manner, she would not feel it. I, on the other hand, with my living cortex would be very discomfited by starving and dehydrating for three days. To a living person, witholding food and water would be torture. But Terri no longer has a living brain, can no longer swallow food or drink, and cannot feel pain.

You say you are not questioning her right to die, but your standard of proof to enable her choice to be carried out is scientifically impossible to meet. Your criteria would keep her in this state of living death indefinitely. She is cortically dead and can't express her wishes. Your reasoning precludes any possibility of Terri being allowed the right to die.

The only way to fulfill your apparent standard (that there should be not the slightest possibility that Terri might experience pain due to her death) would be to proactively do something to end her life painlessly, such as a lethal drug injection. But ethically that would be euthanasia, which introduces a whole new moral demention beyond withdrawal of medical support. I don't have a problem with mercy killing if there is sufficient independent oversight to ensure there is no coersion, (and in this case I would have no hesitation on that point due to the extensive and repeated reviews of the case both medically and legally) but it is not the same thing as Terri requesting a cessation of medical support through her husband. I believe that some are seeing this ethically as euthenasia, and it is not.

Instead of just throwing out an emotional plea for the humanly impossible standard of 100% certainty, how about a suggestion of a better way to determine the wishes of someone in Terri's state than that which has already been repeatedly applied to the satisfaction of every court that has reviewed Terri's case, i.e. the evidence of those best positioned to know, her doctors as to her condition, and her husband as to her wishes.

I understand that many people simply can't accept that Terri is moving around and appearing to react to her environment, yet is still brain dead with no hope of recovery. I would never want to have to make the decision that Terri's husband has had to make. I watched my mother die after medical support (a respirator and i.v.) was withdrawn by our family days after a massive stroke killed her brain. The physicians concluded there was no hope of recovery, in her case, too. She was still moving, seeming to acknowledge the presence of family members, and displaying facial expressions. It was viscerally hard to accept that she was dead and would never wake up. It was hard to focus on the intellectual knowledge that she was not suffering as her body fought for breath and went through the panicked reactions of annoxia. Emotionally, it was devestating to watch someone you love die who doesn't absolutely have to. We had the technology and money to keep her body alive indefinitely in the vain hope she would find a way to recover. In the end, it would have been an affront to nature and an affront to my mother's memory and life to have kept her in such a state for our sake. Better to let go and deal with the reality of the situation; that she was dead.

Many claim that there is a financial motive to Michael Schiavo's decision. But the money from the lawsuits is all long gone. Terri's care is paid for by the charity of her hospice and Medicare. There is no financial incentive for Michael or anyone else to let her die. In fact, it is ironic that the very people in Congress advocating for Terri to be 'saved' are those cutting Medicare payments to those who care for her. What is being done is an act of mercy and an recognition of the dignity of the person Terri was, nothing less.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger pc93 said...

Mae Magouirk safe for now. See Tekgnosis for further details.

Tell the Media to report the REAL Schiavo polls!

My account, etc. of Terri Schindler's Funeral Mass:


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