I admit that I may be all wrong on the Terry Schiavo case - I am no expert, I didn't know her personally, and can only sift through the conflicting reports that are available. I understand the reasons why some people thought she should die, based on the misinformation they received from the media. After all, if I were comatose, brain-dead, on life support with no hope of recovery, if every reasonable avenue had been pursued and I was plainly just a vegetable, then I, too, would want the cord plugged, and would probably expect my loving wife to give the final head nod. But none of that applied to Terri's case - unless I've been totally bamboozled.
Look at the compelling case presented by John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council. She was not comatose. She was not brain dead. She was not on artificial life support other than being fed. She was not terminally ill. She could hear and see. In fact, the videos of her show that she could respond to people she loved.
There is no clear evidence of her intent to be terminated under any circumstances. Reasonable avenues such as therapy were not adequately pursued, but were prematurely terminated by a husband who (according to her parents) may have been the cause of Terri's injury and who has a great deal to gain with her death.
Look, we didn't know the answers. We can agree on that. So what should have happened? WE SHOULD HAVE GIVEN THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT TO TERRI AND TAKE MORE TIME TO SETTLE THE QUESTIONS. Some say she was completely brain dead - clearly wrong, but OK, why not check the brain waves? Some say therapy was helping - OK, why not evaluate that claim? Some say she responded to jokes and tried to communicate - OK, why not investigate and find out for sure? Some say all such claims were impossible with a damaged cerebral cortex - OK, why not do another CAT scan and run some neurological tests and let the experts identify definitive tests to be sure. THERE WAS ROOM FOR DOUBT. UNTIL WE ARE CERTAIN THAT KILLING SOMEONE IS RIGHT, WE SHOULD FEED HER.
Fourteen medical professionals (including 6 neurologists) affirmed that Terri was NOT in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS).
Somebody - perhaps millions of bodies - was bamboozled. Sure, maybe it was just me and few paranoid wackos and a dozen or so medical professionals. But as long as there was doubt, we should not have let the woman die a painful death.
Honey, in case you read this, if I am ever in a degraded physical state where it's hard to talk or move, but am NOT in a persistent vegetative state and am still even slightly or occasionally alert, aware, responsive, and able to continue living without artificial life support, then please give me a chance with prolonged therapy (Mr. Schiavo shut that down 10 years ago, when she was showing progress). Please don't starve me to death (honest, Honey, I hate starving!). Please don't make them kill me, no matter how much money you're going to get. I can imagine that my cognitive disabilities might be pretty annoying and make me a whole lot less fun to be around (or perhaps an improvement??), but we don't shoot handicapped people, do we? Give me a chance and let me live. No, I'm not afraid of death, but I don't want my death to be premature and unwanted. And if we let people kill me because I'm inconvenient or handicapped, we could end up turning my crazy Planned Unparenthood, Inc. concept into reality - with a new improved option for unwanted spouses. No, let's not go there.
But make no mistake--this is most definitely not a right-to-die case. It's a right-to-kill case. And the stakes are high, not just for Terri, but for all of the vulnerable, disabled people of the world.
First of all, numerous doctors have observed that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state. The state of Florida defines persistent vegetative state as "a permanent and irreversible state of unconsciousness in which there is an absence of voluntary or cognitive behavior and an inability to interact purposefully with one's environment." Terri is in no such condition. Videotapes show Terri closely watching her family's movement, verbalizing in response to questions, responding to simple commands and laughing when listening to her favorite music. No fewer than 10 physicians are on record with the court saying that Terri was aware and her condition could improve with therapy. In fact, a Nobel nominee in medicine, Dr. William Hammesfahr, has offered to treat her and provide her rehabilitation without charge.
And then there are the issues surrounding her guardian and husband, Michael Schiavo. He has repeatedly denied Terri the rehabilitative therapy recommended by medical professionals treating her. He has also repeatedly ordered that Terri not be treated for life-threatening infections and blocked "swallowing tests" that would determine whether Terri could be taught to eat without her feeding tubes. Schiavo has also blocked tests that would determine if Terri sustained bone damage around the time of her collapse, clarifying lingering suspicions that her collapse may have been the result of abuse at Schiavo's hand.
In 1995 Schiavo moved in with girlfriend Jodi Centonze, and in 1997 the two announced their engagement. The couple, still cohabitating, now have two children together. And yet Schiavo refuses to divorce Terri. . . .
Terri Schiavo is aware of her surroundings. She feels pain. And starvation is not a painless way to die. It is, in fact, a particularly torturous and cruel death.
This case is not about the right of a terminally ill person to refuse useless life-prolonging treatment. It is about the right of an adulterous, neglectful and possibly abusive husband to sentence his wife to a slow, excruciating death.
Jeff Lindsay, May 9, 2005
Copyright © 2005. This snippet was written by Jeff Lindsay for JeffLindsay.com.
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