Thursday, March 31, 2005

Terri Schiavo

I've stayed away from commenting on the Terri Schiavo tragedy, mostly because I loathe a media circus. I feel sufficiently guilty for contributing to this in my professional capacity (newspaper editor). Adding more commentary and rhetoric to a tragedy like this is like pouring more crap into a clogged toilet.

My sympathies are on the side of the parents. As a parent, I can empathize with their anguish. Yes, they opened the door to the media circus, but if you believe your child's life is threatened, what price is that to pay?

I can imagine, and it's painful just to imagine it, a situation where I would decide that my child's life should be ended, for his sake. But the condition in my imagined scene is not the one I saw on the video clips of Schiavo. Admittedly, we saw only the same few clips over and over. Who knows how representative they were.

But her eyes were open. She moved about. Something was going on in there. I have no experience in neurology. But do we know, and how certainly, that there was no consciousness below the surface incapacity that we saw? What if the woman was intact on the inside, aware of her surroundings, but her connection with the body she inhabited had been severed by her trauma? What if she was a living embodiment of Poe's nightmare of being buried alive?

And then what chance do you take that that might be true, even if you're pretty sure it's not? How sure? 90 percent? If it's your child?

I do believe people have a right to end their lives with dignity, and living wills ought to be honored. But this was not such a clear-cut case. Her family succeeded in creating in me a reasonable doubt about whether she would have wanted this end.

On the other hand, if the husband was able to get on with his life, and to live free after the loss of the woman he married (her self, if not her physical body), what motive would he have had to pursue this, through all the abuse heaped on him, except a sincere conviction that he was fulfilling her wishes?

Maybe I'm missing something. Like I said, I haven't paid full attention to this.

Finally, I'm perplexed by the role of the state in this. The order was to cease medical treatment, as I understand it. But that is, in effect, a death sentence. How does the state order the death of someone who has not been convicted of a crime? And if it is going to be in the business of killing such people, shouldn't it do so humanely? Two weeks of parching starvation doesn't strike me as a non-cruel death.

So, I'm making my living will right now. If I get in bad shape, please don't starve me to death. Kill me with an overdose of Ecstasy.

RIP, Terri Schaivo. You deserved better from all of us.