March 26, 2005

The Sciavo Post

I spent a good bit discussing the Terri Schiavo media circus yesterday, and I just wrote an email to a RI listserv, so I'll mostly reproduce that here, if anyone is interested. This is by no means comprehensive (or cohesive, for that matter!).

First off, let me be very clear about my sympathy for Terri's parents. I think they are delusional (in a literal way, I don't mean that as a pejorative), but under the circumstances it's completely understandable to me. I hope I will be lucky enough in my lifetime to never have to be in their situation. It's a testament to their love and determination that they have fought so hard for their daughter.

One of the things I've heard most in talking with people is the uncomfortableness they have with death by dehydration (starvation). It should be noted that expert testimony by medical professionals with experience in end-of-life cases says that this is not a painful death at all. While we may instinctively recoil at the idea, it's not cruel in the least bit.

Letting someone die (ie refusing medical treatment) is not murder. Nor is it euthanasia. I read a compelling example about how someone suffering from Alzheimer's could spend his last moments in his own bed, surrounded by family, and just stop breathing. Could he be resuscitated? Sure. Does that make the family members present complicit in his murder if they fail to call the paramedics?

Which leads me to the next misunderstanding I've found many people to have about this case: the removal of the feeding tube is not Michael Schiavo's decision, per se. The Florida court was petitioned, by Michael, to make a determination of Terri's wishes. They did so in the manner prescribed by Florida law and, after weighing testimony from various parties, determined that Terri would refuse medical treatment under these conditions. If Micheal woke up this morning and decided that her parents were right and Terri should be kept alive, he would have no legal recourse to have the tube reinserted. The legal system appointed an advocate for Terri's interests, and it appears to me that all parties were granted due process fairly.

One thing that's bothered me is the personal attacks that Michael Schiavo has had to contend with. By all accounts (of those who are personally involved), this man went over and above his responsibilities to Terri for eight years after her hospitalization: visiting more than anyone else, haranguing the nurses for better care, taking a job at a nearby hospital to be closer to her. After many long, hard years he finally accepted the medical reality that someone with spinal fluid where their cerebral cortex once existed has no hope for rehabilitation. It was at that point he asked the court to determine Terri's wishes.

As usual, we have received most of our information via the media (or perhaps other sources biased one way or another). The best source I've found for primary documents is here. That page contains the actual legal decisions as well as a good timeline of events.

And while this tragic case will lose its immediacy in the next few hours or days, the fundamental issues will remain relevant. There's more to this spectacle of course, including cynical political grandstanding, questions of government overreach, religious rights, misleading legal arguments and failures of the various media outlets (I'm looking at you, cable news), but I'm not a machine you know. Leave comments if anyone wants to extend the discussion.

Posted by Bil at March 26, 2005 11:52 AM | TrackBack
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