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[Note: The following was written as a response to an email from a friend of mine who asserted, while the sordid affair was goingon, that the only reason anyone wanted to keep Terri Schiavo* alive was to complete a right wing assertion about God and that somehow President Bush was involved as an evangelical. I had listened to it for a few emails and then finally could handle no more. The result was this email message below. ]
Oh man, H__, I wanted to sit this one out. But the more I read the less able I was to sit quietly by. I understand that we have reached that sad and dangerous state of affairs when idiots from both sides of the political aisle are willing to allow partisan politics — with its propensity to see everything from the perspective of who espoused the first public opinion on a matter and then judging that opinion based on the party label attached to the position — to cloud virtually every discussion. God forbid we should try to find the truth when all we need to know is which side started the argument and from that point we know that “they” (those impoverished thinkers with the other party) are defined as 100% wrong/evil/stupid and “we” (the enlightened thinkers from our party) are 100% correct/good/wise. That such polarization obscures issues, makes actual facts pointless and irrelevant, eliminates the possibility of reasonable compromise, and puts our nation and culture on a suicidal course is apparently OK with the vociferous on both fronts. And of course no one notices when the political winds change, now the other side articulates the same position (because it was a good idea to begin with) and now we have to change our arguments all because the darn labels have changed. It is hard to believe that is what now passes for intelligence in the country that spawned Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, et al. But to bring that banal and supremely ignorant thinking to bear on and influence the outcome and end of an innocent life is a new low even for us.
For a group trained to try to see all sides, the astonishing occurrence of not even seeing that there ARE several sides in this, with some evidence to support them all and with sufficient reasonableness to all of them to convince anyone whose mind was not clouded by preconceived partisanship that an open question exists, is simply astonishing to me.
No, strike that… it is terrifying to me.
Since we would risk going to jail were we to treat a pet this way, can we for a moment forget the party attachments and just look at some logic? Or is a life not worth the effort when others are so willing to do our thinking for us? Forget liberal and conservative; forget religion or non-religion for a moment; those are the true red herrings here.
Two arguments are at play: (a) the lady is in a persistent vegetative state versus (b) the lady is severely handicapped but not vegetative. She is, under that argument, not on life support such as a ventilator but merely is paralyzed with brain damaged motor/vocal functions and need feeding and hydrating.
The other arguments are over the lady’s actual desires and her sort-of-husband has, over time, presented both sides of them, i.e. (a) originally he does not know and (b) he now claims he does know she does not want to live after his ignorance was cleared up by an infusion of money.
We do NOT know her powers of recovery under therapy because that was denied her, by him, after initial therapy seemed to be working. So we have no empirical data to support one way or the other but we have conflicting testimony from both doctors and nurses who have cared for her, so at best, if we are honest, we have to call that a wash.
So where does that leave us logically and what would be the proper course of action were this simply a condemned man in prison or a pet or someone whose case had not somehow gotten labeled in a political way? Well, there are two possibilities:
If #1 is the truth then we are guilty of judicial murder and a grim one at that. We do not allow the electric chair or the guillotine even though they are relatively quick. But we will rush to defend killing through dehydration which is an enormously grim way to die. Organs dry and crack one by one with excruciating pain. The lining of the stomach dries and cracks spilling acid into the torso. The mouth cracks. This will happen before starvation and is why people on prolonged fasts make sure they remain hydrated. No one, not the staunchest supporter of euthanasia can argue with a straight face that killing via dehydration is providing death with dignity.
If #2 is the case then she is blotto. By definition her brain functions have ceased and only the artificial pumping of oxygen and blood sustain the appearance of life. She is already “gone.” Whether we end it now or continue it is no concern of hers anymore and matters only to the providers of funding.
So where does that leave us? If we all wish to see her dead, as you all seem to want, then fine, but give her the shot that you would give your pet and let her go quickly and painlessly. You’d even do that to a condemned murderer. What has this woman done to anyone, much less to our society, or to you, to deserve to die like this?
But if, on a fair and comprehensive revue of the evidence of both sides, something that despite protestations to the contrary has not been done, there is a question remaining, the same scintilla of reasonable doubt that would spare the life of a murderer; a shred of official misconduct that you would argue should release the most heinous of criminals even if they did the deed, would demand a stay of execution. How can you then argue, except through political partisan blinders, that this woman does not deserve the same consideration? If she is already “dead” as one of you asserts, then no harm no foul. If she is not, then either give her the nourishment she needs or kill her painlessly with a shot or even a bullet in the brain, but not this, not this way.
Isn’t there something disquieting to you all when her own parents are not allowed in for her final rites, when they are guarded to keep them from a minor act of kindness such as wetting her lips as she dies? Are you so mad at the election result you would transfer this anger and hatred to this innocent woman just because some, dare I utter the foul word, “Republican” suggested she should be allowed to live. Allowed to live? How can you be opposed to that and pretend to be an American?
This isn’t about God, it isn’t about Bush, it isn’t about the right to die, it’s about handicapped rights and the right for a fighting chance. If you argue to let this happen don’t ever, ever come to me for support to save some snail darter or some criminal, or build a ramp for wheel chair access; that is hypocrisy above and beyond the pale. And don’t act at all surprised when the next argument is, as it is in Holland, that depressed teenagers be euthanized once they utter the magic words that they “don’t want to live.”
Here’s a concept… Rather than politicize this, rather than turn it into a conservative/liberal, democrat/republican morass, rather than turn it into a God versus no-god argument; why is it so hard to see the truth of it from her standpoint, from her parents’ standpoint? This is not a situation to hang some activist cause on. That others have done so is to their shame. But why would otherwise intelligent people buy into that except, again, due to partisan blinders? Take ‘em off, they do you ill.
Now, if you were actually there, if you heard for yourself the lady express her wishes to die horribly, then speak up and I’ll join you in saying, then, let’s give her what she wants. But when her husband himself contradicts himself, (and it is ALL on his word that this has proceeded), when her parents and friends say otherwise, when her parents have offered to assume full responsibility in lieu of any written or expressed desire to the contrary (which here in California would make it mandatory to keep her alive), why is that somehow seen as an action that is nothing more than a chance to promote some awful religious agenda or political point of view. Why can’t it be seen as the efforts of parents to save their daughter from what they believe is murder?
Just because other idiots jumped in and imprinted this with some stupid agenda does not mean you have to buy into it or go along with it. Nobody would ever accuse Jesse Jackson of a single conservative blood cell or an ounce of good will toward Bush and even HE says this is wrong. Duh.
You had a discussion some time ago as to what to do to save the Democrat party. I would suggest that this current discussion is demonstrating clearly why that is going to be difficult. When you start to take it on your selves to evaluate another’s life, to define a life’s quality for someone else, and to then step, no, leap, toward imposing your evaluations and definitions on others and, in this case, being publicly willing to kill an innocent person to maintain the position, then all bets are off.
Elections are rarely about truth since no one involved seems to have any interest in it much less the nerve to speak it, and much much less the willingness to stand behind it. Elections are about perceptions. Whether you agree with it factually or not, the accepted perception of the populace, based on analysis of pundits from both parties, is that people think the Democrats have lost their moral way. I don’t know whether that is true or not and further don’t know that the same couldn’t readily be said for the Republicans. That’s not the issue. The issue is the public perception. And if, IF, all those experts are right, and the people feel as they say, then you are simply reinforcing that perception to argue so strongly to kill this woman off. So here is what I think you should have done back when it was a viable action, not some last minute, cover our butts thing…
If she is in the PVS condition you argue then she is beyond caring. If not she is being murdered. So argue that she deserves a fair, current, and complete review of the case. If she is a carrot the additional time doesn’t matter and if not it will be saving a life. Forget that you think she already had this review, lots of people disagree. Remember we are talking perceptions. The attorney in you would argue to retry a convicted felon so allow the argument to retry her case. If, with current testimony and evidence it is clear beyond reasonable doubt that she is vegetative and wanted this, then kill her cleanly as you would a convicted killer or a dog and tell everyone else they had their chance so now shut up. But if the evidence yields a reasonable doubt, then act according to that. It would be fair; no one could question the legality or morality of it, and you would have been seen as the good guys not the purveyors of death wringing you hands in eager anticipation of news of a last rattling gasp. And best of all, it would not have had to involve God or even politics at all.
So now, you tell me, why that is not a reasonable option? Now it is too late. The hypocrisy is too blatant, the trust is already lost. While arguing about how evil Bush is and how stupid religion is, neither of which has any core thing to do with this, you just reinforce that perception a little more every time. Instead of reading more from the choir that only wants to see this in political terms; instead of looking for some vast conspiracy trying to do you in via some arcane skullduggery; you need to read your basic Walt Kelly. Pogo, to be exact. And listen again as Albert (the alligator) realizes, “We have met the enemy… and he is us.”
Terri Schiavo was a young woman who, as a result of an
accident, was left in a coma. After several years of care, her
husband, who had originally stated she wanted to be kept alive hoping for a
cure, changed his mind after finding a new lady and then said she did NOT
want such measures taken for her. Her parents offered to pay for the
care and also to pay for specialists to come examine her and make a
determination before her life support, which consisted of a feeding tube,
was shut down. She was not on a respirator. Stopping that
feeding tube meant she would die of slow starvation and dehydration.
Into that situation entered the ugly head of politics and the moment a
conservative politician opined that she should be given care, the left
responded in the opposite.
Some of her caregivers insisted she had shown signs of some awareness, others that she was completely unresponsive.
Here is a picture of the "completely unresponsive" Terri and her mother in her hospital room:
In the end she was starved to death on court orders, and autopsy reports stated she was brain dead though they did not explain how, if that were so, her body could continue to breath, pump blood, and digest food from the tube.
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