Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Terri's Deathwatch...
Terri Schiavo will die sometime in the next week, I believe. It is inevitible now that the 11th Ciruit Court in Atlanta has decided that removing her feeding tube, as ordered by a host of Florida courts, is the right thing to do. Right, in this case, being narrowly decided on the basis of legal semantics and a manipulation of the letter of the law, while disregarding morality and anything approaching humanity. The appeal is being made, but it too, will fail and ultimately the Supreme Court will refuse to review the case.

Look now for a tidal wave of copycat cases in the immediate future in which every inconvenient relative from the child with Autism to the grandma with Alzheimers to the old-timer with a colostomy bag, parapalegics who run up tremendous medical bills, people lying in comas for more than a week, etc., are now killed or have their life support turned off.

The simple facts in this case seem never to have been taken into consideration: here we have a woman, who is quite unable, at the present, to speak for herself. Her husband (only in the sense that he married her once) tells a judge that his wife once told him not to prolong her life by artificial methods. As far as I can tell, no one else has ever heard her say any such thing and there is no other documentary evidence to gainsay him. Sixteen judges in Florida, and now ten judges in Atlanta, have decided that, all of a sudden, hearsay evidence is now admissible in court, provided it pertains to disposing of a brain-damaged person.

Terri is alive. She breathes on her own. For all we know, she is aware of her surroundings, but unable to react to them or communicate her feelings. According to the doctors who have examined her, her prognosis ranges from "possibility of rehabilitation" to "deader than a doornail". We're dealing with the human brain here, which any doctor worth his salt, would admit is still foreign territory in this day and age, and nothing is certain. She may snap out of this condition tomorrow or she may stick around, making no progress whatsoever, for the next 70 years. The only thing we're sure she cannot do is swallow and thus eat. The only "life support" system that she is on is an intravenous drip that provides her with sustenance. No repirator, no iron lung, no other machinery keeping her internal organs artificially functioning. By every measurable standard, she is alive.

However, there are those that will tell you that she has no measurable brain activity, and therefore, she's as good as dead. I remind you that Ted Kennedy has no measurable brain activity, but somehow, he's not only allowed to continue living, but is also allowed to be a Senator.

So, how do we measure life? How do we measure the "quality" of life? I can point out a few hundred people personally known to me who will often despair that "life sucks", yet they are perfectly capable of getting themselves a cheeseburger in order to prolong that sucky life or overdosing on heroin to end it. The only difference between them is that Terri is unable to do either for herself. Some would tell you that the inability to feed yourself is a reason you should be killed. These same folks will then extend the argument to include being unable to kill yourself is a reason why you should be killed. Some folks are just fascinated by death, I guess.
To some, being able to die (or kill off an inconvenient spouse who just won't kick the bucket on her own) is a matter of "choice". There's that word again, choice.

Choice, to this crowd, pertains to the right to kill anyone who is inconvenient, even before they're born, but not to smoke, own a gun or drive an SUV. The choice of life or death, of course, always falls on someone else's shoulders (a pregnant mother, a husband counting the malpractice settlement, the government, a convicted child molester, etc) but never to the person directly involved --- an unborn child, a murderer's victim, Terri Schiavo.

Should Congress have been involved in this process? Beats me. We're talking about the legal minefinds here. The bill that finally passed will be debated about forever and will rear it's ugly head in courtrooms all over the world. It is now precident: If you want to save the life of anyone, you can now go to your Congresscritter and get a law passed. That we should have to have a law passed in order to maintain the life of the brain-damaged is a sure sign that civilization will soon end. My only question regarding Congressional action is why can't they move that quickly to fix the nation's problems: immigration, eliminating federal waste, confirming judges, making English the chief lingua franca, throwing out the tax code and the IRS, making it easier to kill a convicted sex offender with a pack of wild dogs. I understand the necessity of playing to the right-to-life crowd in terms of politics, but I do not understand why Congress is able to posture easily enough but not accomplish the everyday business of the country. I don't feel a law should have been passed in Terri's case because she is obviously alive. I do, however, understand exactly why some in Congress, the ones who actually acted out of convictions, did what they did.

However, this particular Congressional action may have some unintended consequence. When, for example, a mother decideds to abort a child she knows will be born with physical or mental handicaps, against the father's wishes, does the father now talk his senator into introducing a bill? It will happen, soon, mark my words, and what was a fabulous gesture on behalf of the living will now turn into yet another campaign issue --- something that will be forever debated, but never solved. Kept alive (no pun intended) for the sake of having something to talk about for the next three decades. Like social security reform.

I pray for Terri Schiavo and her family. I thank the truly engaged for the efforts they put forth to save her life. I cringe when I think of the appeals court that dithered and then washed it hands, probably hoping she would die before a decision needed to be made.

No comments: