Dispatches from the Creation Wars

My Thoughts on Terry Schiavo

I’ve not said a word about the Terry Schiavo situation. Frankly, I’m sick to death of hearing about it. And after reading Radley Balko’s take on it, I don’t really have much to say. Balko nailed the situation completely, as far as I’m concerned. He makes several points, all of which I agree with entirely.

1. Multiple courts have heard testimony from all sides and determined that Terry herself had clearly expressed her desire not to be kept alive if she was an invalid. In the absence of a living will, that is really the only determination that matters. I’ve been in this situation before with three loved ones. When my mother died, she had made very clear to all of us that she did not want to be kept alive on machines, period. When she went into a coma after suffering cardiac arrest in the hospital, she suffered enormous brain damage. The doctors told us they could keep her technically alive for as long as we wanted, basically. She’d be on a ventilator, she’d need a feeding tube, and she’d remain in a coma, but she’d be “alive”. The decision of what to do legally resided solely with my stepfather, but he wanted the whole family to make that decision and we did. We shut off the machines. She had made clear to all of us that she would want exactly that, and that is all that matters.

2. Congress is engaged in shameless grandstanding with their absurd efforts to intervene in a situation where they simply have no authority. Balko also correctly points out that this grandstanding is being done by the very people who advocate federalism and judicial restraint, yet here they are frantically trying to get the federal courts to intervene where they have no authority. The Supreme Court rightly refused to get involved.

3. It’s absurd that we don’t allow active euthanasia in cases like this. Allowing her to starve to death is the worst possible outcome. When my mother was comatose and we shut off the machines, the doctors had loaded up her IV with enough morphine that she was going to go quickly and painlessly. Balko hits the nail right on the head:

I know the answer. But it isn’t acceptable. The answer is that removing a feeding tube isn’t proactive. Whereas injecting someone with lethal, but merciful drugs is. That’s asinine. This poor woman has had her feeding tube removed three times, half starved to death twice, all because people who claim to care about her won’t let go of their own damned prejudices long enough to embrace her best interests. We need to seriously rethink our priorities, here. If we are going to let her die — and I’ll trust the opinion of the six courts that we should — starving her death is the worst way to do it.

God help anyone who gets a terminal illness in this country. If you do, and you’re unlucky enough to be someone for whom certain drugs the government has deemed “controlled” are the only remedy for your suffering, too bad. Die in pain. If you’re rendered incapacitated and want to end your pain quietly and peacefully, too bad then, too. Just lie there and suffer. Hope the end comes early.

4. You have to feel for the parents and family who want to keep her alive. But they are acting purely on emotion. You can understand their emotions, certainly, but that doesn’t mean the courts should act on those emotions. They have to act on the facts of the case, and at least 6 courts have now viewed that evidence and reached the same conclusion – that she is in a persistent vegitative state and will never recover, and that she had clearly expressed her desire not to be kept alive in such a circumstance.

As for the wingnuts on the religious right who have so feverishly exploited this situation to scare people, they just need to shut the hell up. If you want to take the position that as long as the parents are willing to take on the responsibility of her care, there’s no harm in allowing her to stay on the machines and therefore we should err on the side of life, fine. I don’t agree with that argument, but I think it’s reasonable. But if you’re one of the idiotic hucksters like Randall Terry, who had the audacity to claim yesterday that Terry cried out and said she wanted to live yesterday (naturally, without eyewitnesses or videotape of it), or like David Bass, who compares the judge in the case to Al Qaeda terrorists, then you just need to crawl back under your rock.

Update: And if you’re wondering what the motivation is for the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress to grandstand on the issue, look no further than the leaked memo from Senate republicans:

Republican leaders believe their attention to the Terri Schiavo issue could pay dividends with Christian conservatives whose support they covet in the 2006 midterm elections, according to a GOP memo intended to be seen only by senators.

The one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators by party leaders, called the debate over Schiavo legislation “a great political issue” that would appeal to the party’s base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is up for re-election next year.

Anyone shocked?

Comments

  1. #1 ~DS~
    March 20, 2005

    Frankly, I’m sick to death of hearing about it.

    Amen.

  2. #2 Dan Schneider
    March 20, 2005

    The most sickening thing was hearing Tom DeLay calling the husband, Michael, ‘a man of questionable morals’, and then some other slimy Republicans calling him a bigamist, because he’s had kids w another woman, rather than waiting for a vegetable, which she is, and courts and doctors have determined she is.
    Were I Michael I’d kick those slimebags’ asses back to their home states.
    Yet, the thing that I wonder of the most is, ala Nicole Simpson, Laci Peterson, and JonBenet Ramsey, would anyone give a damn of her were she black or Hispanic? DAN

  3. #3 Ed Darrell
    March 20, 2005

    It’s fascinating to me that Congress thinks to intervene in this case, which could cost taxpayers millions.

    But if you have an old aunt, or mother, who needs medical care, Tom Delay’s answer is “tough.”

    This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

  4. #4 Ben
    March 20, 2005

    The Supreme Court may have to get involved at some point. Or perhaps the legislation will get voted down.

  5. #5 John Wilkins
    March 21, 2005

    There’s an old doctrine, derived from Catholic theological ethics, called the “doctrine of double effect”. This appears to have become orthodoxy in western medicine. It basically states that one may not cause harm intentionally but one may cause harm if it is an unintended byproduct of some beneficial action.

    For example, you can give a morphine overdose to a terminal patient whose pain levels have exceeded the survival dosage, thereby killing the patient, so long as you don’t give the morphine in order to cause death.

    Double effect is a bit of fiction that allows doctors to do what they know is right but the law says is wrong if done deliberately.

    A more worrying aspect of this case is the undercutting of the fundamental principles of common law – that legislation may not be made to affect a named individual, and that legislatures should not intervene in an active (sub judice case.

    America is going the way of the Star Chamber again. Those who do not know their history…

  6. #6 Troy Britain
    March 21, 2005

    If anyone needed more evidence that the oft-repeated Republican shtick about smaller government, and getting government out of our lives, is pure grade-A bullshit, well here you go…

  7. #7 raj
    March 21, 2005

    Um, Ed, I’m going to have a comment on this post later today, but I really do believe that you should be aware of something from Jack Balkin’s web site

    The New York Times reports that “[s]everal Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject – or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth – fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures.”

    http://balkin.blogspot.com/2005/03/giving-in-to-ignorance-about-science.html

  8. #8 llDayo
    March 21, 2005

    If that memo is real (and after that whole scene before the election having to do with Bush’s military history, I’d remain a little suspect, just in case) then the Democrats should pounce on it! They should show it to the religious right to show the true nature of the politicians they’re endorsing. The Dems could gain some voters through this and hopefully eliminate the Republican control that is currently in the administration.

  9. #9 Mark E. Gammon
    March 21, 2005

    The person above who mentions double effect has no clue what he is talking about. It is not a “bit of fiction.” It is a moral, not legal, principle. As a religion professor, I’m sick of talking about this case, too, but it just pains me to see so much ignorance on both sides — including this post.

    Yes, there is grandstanding going on here — but the “culture of life” argument, insofar as it is defended across the board (abortion, embryonic stem cells, euthanasia) is NOT a ridiculous one, and Congress’ involvement here, while PR friendly, is a move to protect a life, at least from a certain point of view. Is it inconsistent to do so for this one case? Of course. Does that make it wrong? Not necessarily.

    And by the way, who is to say that one’s personal preferences determine whether it is ethical for one to be kept alive or not? That is a huge assumption. At what point is someone so incapacitated that death becomes a reasonable option? It’s a tricky slippery slope that those who fling around notions of right wing bigotry.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    March 21, 2005

    Yes, there is grandstanding going on here — but the “culture of life” argument, insofar as it is defended across the board (abortion, embryonic stem cells, euthanasia) is NOT a ridiculous one, and Congress’ involvement here, while PR friendly, is a move to protect a life, at least from a certain point of view. Is it inconsistent to do so for this one case? Of course. Does that make it wrong? Not necessarily.

    I don’t think there is such a thing as the “culture of life” argument. Let’s not confuse a catchphrase or a marketing slogan for an actual argument. There is no logical connection between this situation and stem cell research or abortion, nor is there any logical connection between the latter two issues.

    And by the way, who is to say that one’s personal preferences determine whether it is ethical for one to be kept alive or not? That is a huge assumption. At what point is someone so incapacitated that death becomes a reasonable option? It’s a tricky slippery slope that those who fling around notions of right wing bigotry.

    The last sentence isn’t complete, so I don’t know what you actually meant by it, especially since I didn’t say anything about “right wing bigotry”. As for the first question, the preferences of the patient is really all that should matter, either expressed verbally or through a living will. If they have said that they do not wish to be kept alive under such circumstances, then they should not be kept alive under such circumstances, period. End of discussion. And I don’t care what anyone else says.

    I’ve been through this personally. My mother had made it very clear to all of us that she did not want to be kept alive by machines, especially a ventilator. She had expressed this literally dozens of times over the course of many months, but she did not have a living will (she did have a DNR code in her file, but the hospital ignored it as they often do because they’re so afraid of liability). Legally, the decision rested with my stepfather, as it should and as were my mother’s wishes, but the fact is that if any one of the family had objected to that, the hospital would have been forced not to follow my mother’s clearly expressed wishes. And that came very close to happening because of one sister who simply could not accept that mom was going to die (and frankly, still hasn’t accepted, 7 years later, that she is dead). The doctors could have kept her “alive”, in a coma and with enormous brain damage (she had been without oxygen for some 9 minutes after cardiac arrest), indefinitely. But to do so would have been cruel and unfair, to her and to those who loved her.

    Now I know that this case isn’t quite as clear as mine was. But 6 separate courts have now heard testimony on this and every single one of them concluded from the testimony of multiple people that Terry had clearly expressed that she did not want to live in this type of circumstance. And frankly, that’s good enough to me. Does anyone really believe that Judge Greer and the other judges who have heard this case are just so consumed with bloodlust to kill this woman that they’re acting without regard for reason or compassion? Well yes, some people really do believe that, the bomb-throwing morons who are comparing him to Al Qaeda terrorists and Nazis obviously believe that, but why on earth should any sane person take them seriously?

    This case has become a circus sideshow. And while I understand the family’s deep desire to keep her “alive” so they can hope for a miracle, an awful lot of the PR work they’ve done to support their case is dishonest and designed to appeal to the emotions of the credulous. Today they released an audiotape of Terry moaning and making random noises, which they claim is her “talking to them”. But PVS victims often do that, and if you had a tape recorder there you’d hear the same random noises whether someone is there or not. The same is true of that infamous videotape of her following the balloon. I understand why they are engaged in wishful thinking, but it’s still wishful thinking, and courts cannot proceed on the basis of such absurdity. I happen to be very close to one of the doctors who has examined her and seen her medical reports. She tells me in no uncertain terms that the medical part of it is open and shut, and court after court has reviewed that evidence and reached the same conclusion. There is a time to let go, and that time has passed.

  11. #11 raj
    March 21, 2005

    hey, what the heck. The American Rebublicans (Another reason that we aren’t Americans, any more) have made the Schiavo case a federal cause non celebra. Hey, whatever. You can’t even get enough people to sign up for the US military. Who are you trying to kid?

  12. #12 KeithB
    March 21, 2005

    I think that every Senator and Representative that voted for this law should be made to take a day and come and change Terry’s bedpans and otherwise care for her.

    As it is now, this legislation has zero cost for *them.*

  13. #13 Celcus
    March 21, 2005

    One question that I have is why so many are so eager to believe that a functioning disabled human is going to be murdered, with every court (6, I believe), judge, doctor, and hospital administrator for that matter, involved actively going along with it.

    A “slippery slope” argument is one thing, but to just concoct an example of the supposed “bottom” and then see people lining up behind it is rather disturbing. I mean, to have to go so far out of your way to invent an “evil” to fight, what does that say about these people? It reminds me of something…

    “What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

    “Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long
    arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”

    “Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants
    but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that
    turned by the wind make the millstone go.”

    “It is easy to see,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not used to
    this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid,
    away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage
    them in fierce and unequal combat.”

  14. #14 Jim F
    March 21, 2005

    A quote from Bush:

    In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favour of life.

    I don’t recall Bush being quite so dainty about the sanctity of life when it came to death row prisoners. How many death sentences did he veto while governor of Texas?

  15. #15 CPT_Doom
    March 22, 2005

    The most sickening thing was hearing Tom DeLay calling the husband, Michael, ‘a man of questionable morals’, and then some other slimy Republicans calling him a bigamist, because he’s had kids w another woman, rather than waiting for a vegetable, which she is, and courts and doctors have determined she is.

    Not to mention, Mr. DeLay does not seem perturbed by the bigamists and adulterers in Congress – after all the Bible does not allow divorce, yet I bet DeLay fraternizes with the likes of Senator Elizabeth Dole, who is technically an adulterer because her husband was previously divorced.

    As for this case, I too watched my mother die, although thankfully she was able to make the decision to forgo live-sustaining care when her terminal cancer diagnosis was made. It was horrible to experience nonetheless.

    Yes, there is grandstanding going on here — but the “culture of life” argument, insofar as it is defended across the board (abortion, embryonic stem cells, euthanasia) is NOT a ridiculous one, and Congress’ involvement here, while PR friendly, is a move to protect a life, at least from a certain point of view. Is it inconsistent to do so for this one case? Of course. Does that make it wrong? Not necessarily.

    Well, from what I understand, it is not about so much as keeping her alive as it is continuing a medical prop to maintain certain brainstem (unconscious) functions. Terri Schiavo already “died” when she went into heart failure, and as a physician noted in a letter to the Washington Post editor today, doctors were able to restart her heart, but not her higher brain functions.

  16. #16 Mary
    March 24, 2005

    No. Terri Schiavo did not die when she went into heart failure. Even Michael Schiavo admitted that in his original testimony something to the effect that “she is more than just a head on a pillow, she is a human being able to respond:”. If she is PVS now and she may not be, then Michael Schiavo needs to be held responsible for causing that due to the lack of care and support. Just because she was a severely disabled individual doesn’t mean we have the right to decide for her that she would have wanted to die.

    A person in a state such as Terri, who may be aware buy unable to communicate via normal means, may want to live. I know, my sister was one of them.. Fortunately, her husband divorced her as there was no large looming sum of money to inherit.

    Congress acted both ethically and morally in getting involved only because of the fact that it was clear that Judge Greer had not. If terri Schiavo is allowed to be killed as she is, that is a terrible omen for our country. I am embarrased to be an American right now.

    By the way, I never considered myself a Republican, until now that is. Democrats purportedly made this issue into a “right to die” issue, to support their causes. Unfortunately, this is not “right to die”; it is “right to kill”.
    I will not allow myself to be linked with such an immoral and unethical group of individuals.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    March 24, 2005

    No. Terri Schiavo did not die when she went into heart failure. Even Michael Schiavo admitted that in his original testimony something to the effect that “she is more than just a head on a pillow, she is a human being able to respond:”. If she is PVS now and she may not be, then Michael Schiavo needs to be held responsible for causing that due to the lack of care and support. Just because she was a severely disabled individual doesn’t mean we have the right to decide for her that she would have wanted to die.

    Go and read the Guardian Ad Litem report from Jay Wolfson, the man Jeb Bush appointed to review the entire situation. I linked to it in a post last night. He points out that both Michael and the parents accepted that she was PVS from the very beginning, but both held out hope that she would recover from that. After about 4 years, the doctors finally convinced Michael that there was no way she was going to get any better. And they are right. The medical evidence is absolutely conclusive.

  18. #18 Shannon
    March 25, 2005

    Judge Greer is ” the Angel of Death ”
    I hope he has the pleasure to watch one of his children be starved to death !
    For that matter, anyone that has had the opportunity to save her and hasn’t !
    Including Michele Schiavo, any Congressmen , Senator, Governor and President .

  19. #19 David Holland
    March 26, 2005

    Shannon,
    Do you have any thing to back up your accusation with? Can you cite any cases other than this one? Do you know anything at all about his record?

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