On Terri Schiavo

NOTE: I'm re-posting this earlier piece on Schiavo, which I had temporarily pulled in the hopes of putting together something a little better. At the moment, I'm unable to devote the attention to the matter that it deserves, due to various personal factors including a serious illness in the family. I believe the issue is important and needs to be discussed freely and intelligently. My own position has not changed; however, please see Kai Jones' and Joshua Gibson's responses in the Comments section. I look forward to rejoining the Schiavo discussion at a later date.

I don't have time to write a full piece on Terri Schiavo at the moment, but I do feel I need to say a few words on the case - and to say why I am convinced that Terri's life must be preserved.

I am not a right-to-life absolutist. Nor does one need to be, to see many gravely troubling aspects to the Terri Schiavo case. In fact, I would argue that those who do believe in "death with dignity" should look at this as an example of all that can go wrong without proper safeguards.

Terri Schiavo left no "living will". A "living will" is a document spelling out instructions for the family as to what to do - or, in particular, what not to do - in the event that an individual becomes permanently incapacitated or comatose. My mother took great care to draw up a living will in the last months of her life; she explained its provisions to me, asked me to repeat the instructions back to her, and showed me where the document was kept. (Another copy was on file with her lawyer.) But if a living will is to have any meaning at all, surely its absence, too, must mean something.

I'm worried by what I've read about Michael Schiavo's financial interests, allegations of his abuse and neglect of Terri, and indications of a premeditated killing.

I used to think the Terri Schiavo case was "some kind of right-wing cause". I'm no longer thinking of it in these terms. (Andrew Sullivan, for example, sees the case as a sign of the demise of conservatism.)

The following blogs have information on the Terri Schiavo case:
Straight Up With Sherri
Discarded Lies

UPDATE: Reader Kai Jones has contributed some very enlightening links on the other side of the debate.

Respectful of Otters - "A court has determined, based on the testimony of several witnesses, that Schiavo's wish would have been to remain unviolated by a feeding tube if she had no hope of recovering. That ruling has been affirmed and re-affirmed. It is our best estimate, our only estimate, of what Terri Schiavo would have wanted. If we want our own rights to bodily integrity preserved, we have no choice but to uphold hers." Rivka notes that she is " strongly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide."

Obsidian Wings -
In 1990, Terri Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest, probably as a result of bulimia. (If any of you have been wondering why a woman in her twenties had cardiac arrest, that seems to be the answer. The underreporting of this aspect of the case is a real missed opportunity to educate people about the consequences of serious eating disorders.) As a result of the cardiac arrest, her brain was deprived of oxygen, which caused severe brain damage.

Eight years later, after various attempts at therapy and a successful malpractice suit (based on the doctors' failure to diagnose Terri's eating disorder), Michael Schiavo petitioned the court to determine whether her feeding tube should be removed. Many press reports talk as though he just decided that it should be removed; in fact, he left that decision to the court. He and others testified that Terri Schiavo had said that she would not want to be kept alive in a condition like the one she was in; her family of origin testified that she had said that she would. The judge found (pdf) that there was 'clear and convincing evidence' that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to receive life-prolonging care in her current condition, and ordered that the feeding tube could be removed. (If you are wondering how the judge could have found 'clear and convincing evidence' given conflicting testimony, I urge you to read the pdf, which explains why the judge did not find her parents' testimony credible. In one case, for instance, they testified that she had made a remark supporting their position when she was an adult, but it turned out that she had said it when she was 11 or 12.)

I'll take some time to read through the materials on both sides, and will post again when I get the chance.