Loose lips sink ships; they used to say during World War II. Perhaps something similar has happened to Terri Schiavo. She is the young woman in Florida who has been in a vegetative state for many years, after suffering a severe reaction to some kind of medication or medical procedure.
Terri is bed ridden, and is not the woman she was prior to her illness. Because she cannot swallow, nutrition is provided through a feeding tube, connected and disconnected as needed. She is not dependant on any other life support equipment. She does not need a ventilator to breathe, and her heart beats, as it should, without assistance.
We have seen video of her, taken by family members. At times, and by all appearances, she seems to react when her mother speaks to her. She does not look gravely ill, and even appears to have a permanent smile on her face. Experts have testified that she is not cognizant of these interactions, but rather, they are simple automatic nervous system responses to stimuli. These people, along with her husband claim that she will never improve, and that she is essentially brain dead.
The husband says she would not have wanted to live this way, so he wants to have the feeding stopped. This would slowly kill her, over the course of several days. Terri’s parents have been fighting to block this action although; the courts have sided consistently with the husband. Governor Jeb Bush tried to take the issue from the court's hands through legislation, but was finally shot down by higher courts. Ultimately, the Supreme Court refused to review the case.
Perhaps Terri did not have a written living will, in which she could have declared her desire to forego extreme measures to keep her alive. Her husband says that she told him of her wishes. I have made such comments to friends and family, generally after witnessing the plight of someone who has suffered great trauma, so it is not difficult to believe that Terri made such comments to her husband.
Putting aside any ulterior motives the husband may or may not have for wanting Terri’s ordeal to end, I want to focus squarely on the idea that he and the courts are motivated entirely by good intentions. I must compare this situation to one that I, or any of us, might one day find ourselves in, God forbid.
I really do not want to lay in bed, immobilized, a breathing tube down my throat, unable to communicate. My life would exist only because heroic people hooked me up to breathing machines in a nick of time. Now I am condemned to live endlessly and anonymously, alone in the space between my ears. In that case, I say please turn off the machine. I would have died anyway, and I probably should have.
However, in this case, there are no machines. If they stop feeding Terri, she will die in a gruesome manner. She will die, not due to the injuries she suffered, but directly at the hands of her caregivers. The inability to sustain one’s self is not a condition unique to Terri’s illness. After all, small children will die if you stop feeding them as well.
The good intentions of those who would starve Terri Schiavo to death are misplaced in this case. I believe that under the laws of common sense, reasonable people should recognize that allowing an illness to run its course is much different from what has been proposed here. If Terri is to die, she should die from her illness, not by intentional starvation.
Experts may disagree as to what determines a living existence, but it is clear to me that Terri still lives between her own two ears. If she is indeed as “gone” as her husband and his experts say she is, it would mean absolutely nothing to her to continue the way she is. If her condition deteriorates to a point that mechanical support is needed to sustain her, then I agree; it will be time to let her go. Until then, the parents should be granted their desire to care for her.
For information on how you can help Terri, go to this website: www.terrisfight.org
Copyright ©2005, Phil Harris - All Rights Reserved