Friday, April 01, 2005

In Retrospect - Musings on the Tragic Case of Terri Schiavo

Just a few of the thoughts that have been in my head over the pas couple of weeks regarding Terri's death (judicially sanctioned/ordered death), and thought I'd write some of them down, in no particular order, before I go to bed...

1. Why was Terri given morphine if she was in no pain, and George Felos (along with many 'experts') were saying her starvation was a peaceful death...

2. Thinking about that, why is it that the faces of those we see tragically dying in African countries of starvation and malnourishment not serene and peaceful (perhaps they haven't been fortunate enough to have 'experts' to tell them starvation is a gentle death)

3. Terri is dead for many reasons, but one of those weighing most heavily on me is that she was simply unlucky...several people have pointed out that along the way Terri would be alive today if she had had a kinder draw at the bench, in nay of the courts (a single judge at the State level, a sympathetic judge instead of Whittemore at the first appeal level, a 1-2 desicion at the 11th Circuit rather than a 2-1 against). That her life in the end came down to the luck of the draw does not inspire me to have the courts legistlate in end of life issues (I don't know the alternative, but I don't like what we have).

On the issue of the way the courts failed Terri, see William Anderson's article in the most recent Weekly Standard. In it he writes:

To withhold minimal comfort measures such as water is gratuitous cruelty. But the judge must be convinced of his probity and rectitude, for he alerted every sheriff in Florida to be vigilant in preventing a chip of ice from entering Terri's mouth. And appellate courts declined to interfere with this travesty of justice on the grounds that proper procedures were followed. Thus they became complicit in the evolving tragedy.

Much mischief is set loose when the uncertain judgments of medical diagnosis are conflated with the rigid categories of the law. Unlike coma or brain death, persistent vegetative state is a diagnosis that depends on subjective judgment. It requires a finding of unresponsiveness in an awake and alert person. Even skilled diagnosticians may disagree on this assessment. It does not necessarily preclude the possibility of improvement. It has no definitive laboratory tests

Thus the diagnosis of PVS is not reliable in a forensic sense, and should not be used in life and death decisions.

In the end Terri's death was largely based on unproven (whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?) assertions by at most a handful of physicians, the main one of which was a well know euthanasia supporter, even for people with Alzheimers.

4. I've been actually slightly encouraged by the support from unusual secotrs Terri received. While several liberal commentators have charged the Republicans with pandering to the religious right, on Terri's side have been people such as Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson...much as I disagree on many things with these two men, I must commend them on thesir support of life.

5. Another support has been the many disabled activist groups, such as Not Dead Yet. One of the posts on their website states:

"It's time for the press to talk to the real experts on the Schiavo case - the disability rights movement", declared Diane Coleman, president and founder of Not Dead Yet, leading the disability community's opposition to non-voluntary euthanasia for a decade.

"That's why 26 national disability rights organizations, including groups like Not Dead Yet, independent living centers, DQIA, and others have adopted a position in support of Terri Schiavo's right to continue to receive food and water," affirmed Stephen Drake, research analyst for NDY. "People on the right are killing us slowly with cuts to the budget and Medicaid while the people on the left kill us quickly and call it 'compassion' -- either way we end up dead -- AND WE OBJECT."

It seems that many of the disability groups who have traditionally seemed so supportive of the left are beginning to see where the Left's ideology actually takes them. Among the eight things that the group states they want in ways of safegaurding the lives of the millions of disabled Americans are meaningful federal review in cases such as Terri's and a morotorium on the removal of food and water for people in PVS until the issue has been fully debated in the public arena.

6. While sympathising with those who have been protesting, I have found the extremes worrying, with people threatening judges and Jeb Bush, for example, and people taking the name Christian while spuoting rhetoric that is anything but. I hate it because they do more harm to the cause of Christ than good, and give the liberal commentators food for their own rhetoric against the so-called 'religious right'. But I hate it most because it is not the way of Christ - it's simply wrong.

7. I think it is monsterous that judges can rule that sustenance be withdrawn from a woman they are meant tp protect, and yet rule that her parents cannot even give her ice to wet her lips. And I think the step taken by Judge Greer, of not only ruling food and water can be withdrawn, but must be, is a historic and terrible step in the wrong direction by the courts.

8. Just as some of the people supporting Terri spoke with remarkable certitude about her being able to recover if therapy was given (maybe she would and maybe not - but it does seem there was a possibility), so others have spoken with certitude of the fact she would want to die in this case - partly based on the hearsay of her husband, but mainly, I think, on their own perception of what they would want. Now obviously noone would want to live like Terri was, but if that were the only life you had, would most people want to die - I'm not so sure.

Anyway, the certainty with which people have dogmatically stated that Terri would rather die than live is dealt with in a column by Paul Vitello. In the column, Vitello writes about his own daughter, who suffered brain damage at 10 months and was written off my most doctors as vegetative. Now she still has very little function, but can sometimes grab yuor hand, differentiate between two colours, and other such simple things. He asks a question all who speak with dogmatism on the obvious fact Terri would chose death:

How can anyone know what constitutes another being's life-worthiness?

How indeed?

Vitello notes Not Dead Yet's stand:

"We totally object to any cognitive test for 'personhood,'" said Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a Chicago-based national organization of disabled people opposed to assisted suicide and what they see as a growing euthanasia movement in the U.S. "The use of such testing will inevitably result in the non-voluntary euthanasia of many people with disabilities -- based on society's prejudiced judgment of our 'quality of life.'"

It's a fear worth holding in light of Terri Schiavo's death. Society's prejudiced judgement of the quality of life of many people may be rather less high than we thought, if the polls a re anything like a true reflection of public opinion.

9. Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, seems downright strange. Here is his record of an encounter with a woman in a nursing homs:

As Mrs. Browning lay motionless before my gaze, I suddenly heard a loud, deep moan and scream and wondered if the nursing home personnel heard it and would respond to the unfortunate resident. In the next moment, as this cry of pain and torment continued, I realized it was Mrs. Browning.

I felt the midsection of my body open and noticed a strange quality to the light in the room. I sensed her soul in agony. As she screamed I heard her say, in confusion, "Why am I still here ... Why am I here?" My soul touched hers and in some way I communicated that she was still locked in her body. I promised I would do everything in my power to gain the release her soul cried for. With that, the screaming immediately stopped. I felt like I was back in my head again, the room resumed its normal appearance, and Mrs. Browning, as she had throughout this experience, lay silent.

Very strange...

10. Finally, an article for the few who come here and have got this far through the post (I'm going to read it tomorrow properly) - How Liberalism Failed Terri Schiavo, by Eric Cohen.

Good night, and my prayers go with the Schindler family, and as distasteful as I've found his actions, Michael Schiavo too...


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