A Few More Thoughts on Terri Schiavo

Terri Schiavo is dead but the questions surrounding her killing remain. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, more than any other news event since 9/11 (and perhaps even more than that), this has caused me to re-examine some of my basic assumptions. As I've said here before, I am not a pro-life absolutist; at least, not yet. I believe in the importance quality of human life, not just the fact of its existence.

But even as I write these words, something in me grows uneasy with this facile formulation. Who decides what is a desirable "quality" of life? How do these decisions get made, and for whom? We can all agree that a patient writhing in pain on a hospital bed, with no hope of relief from their pain and a certainty of imminent death, does not have a good quality of life. Perhaps one could even reasonably argue that a patient, having explicitly enunciated his or her wishes, might be allowed an early death - either passively (through the withdrawal of artificial life support) or even actively (through a lethal dose of painkiller).

But none of this applies to Terri Schiavo. She was not in discomfort - at least, not until she was sentenced to a slow death by the Florida courts. She had not left a living will. She was killed solely as a result of the determination of her so-called "husband", over the agonized objections of her blood relatives. If there was any doubt in my mind as to the reality of the "slippery slope" principle, this atrocity has removed all trace of it.