Monday, March 28, 2005

My Thoughts on Schiavo

I’ve been away from the blog for several days now, and I appreciate the comments. I really haven’t articulated my thoughts on the whole Schiavo story/spectacle/event, so I’m writing this entry to respond to some of the comments and get my own thoughts out.

First, Terri Schiavo should have been treated for bulimia. In fact, that’s what Michael Schiavo won the malpractice suit over: her doctor should have diagnosed her condition before it progressed to the point where she was in danger. Now, it can be debated whether the doctor was responsible or not, or Terri’s husband or parents or friends, or coworkers, or whoever; somebody should have helped her. Didn’t happen.

Second, tragic though it is, Terri’s mind died that day. Let’s make no mistake, her mind is gone. Not just damaged, not just disabled. Gone. Her cerebral cortex is no more. The part of her brain that in each of us makes us who we are was destroyed by a lack of oxygen. It is only because the more primitive parts of the brain are less susceptible to anoxic damage that she was able to be revived at all.

There is a spectrum of brain damage that can result from instances where the brain is deprived of oxygen. Some people come back with no brain damage, some with less damage than Terri, some with more, and a lot of people die. If she was more brain damaged, so that she could not breathe on her own and was comatose, we wouldn’t be having this national discussion. If she was slightly less brain damaged, and could demonstrate some kind of awareness and motivation or intent, then we could somehow find out what she wants, or at least have the hope of some degree of recovery.

Now, people can have opinions on this, but everybody in the medical community who has closely examined this case has come to the same conclusion: she ain’t home and she ain’t gonna get any better. I, not being a medical professional, will defer to those many people who have examined her over the years, and accept the diagnosis of a Persistent Vegetative State. We’re not talking about a person in a motorized wheelchair, here. We’re not talking about Timmy from South Park. We’re talking, sadly, about just a body with sleep and wake cycles. That’s it. Time has certainly shown that she hasn’t made any progress. Certain people have appeared on TV, asserting that she has been misdiagnosed. They, of course, have not actually performed any tests and, in most cases, did not even see her in person. Furthermore, their motives and qualifications are rather questionable, in my opinion.

Before the advent of the feeding tube, cases like Terri were allowed to waste away. Doctors would say, “there’s no hope of recovery” and people would accept the natural course/symptoms of dying. Some people draw a distinction between respirator life support and feeding tubes. But how different is it? If withdrawing the feeding tube is tantamount to starving her, then turning off a respirator is the same as suffocating someone. Ceasing feeding to someone who can’t feel hunger or thirst, is not causing them any suffering.

But that isn’t the point. I don’t propose to draw the line for anyone. We have to go with what Terri would have wanted. And how do we determine that? Well, that brings us to the courts.

Third, there have been no less than 34 legal proceedings. Terri’s condition and wishes have been addressed and revisited many times. Every argument coming out in the press in the last couple of weeks has been raised again and again in court over the last decade and a half. To assert that things haven’t been looked at closely and thoughtfully is to reject our entire legal process. The reason we have a judicial system is so that a disinterested party can make tough decisions. The decisions have been made, over and over, every time with the same outcome: Terri Schiavo would not want to live in the state she is in. It’s not like it went one way, and then was appealed and was overturned and then turned back. It’s been the same outcome every time. At some point, you have to say, enough’s enough.

Finally, these are difficult and personal decisions that families have to deal with every day. The fact that it’s got to the point where politicians have become involved is entirely distasteful, and a waste of taxpayers’ money and focus. There are many more people dying every day from other causes. On the part of the politicians, it is a move calculated to erode the constitutional separation of powers, and to get the government involved in the most personal of decisions of its citizens. During this time of war, health care crisis, environmental degradation, and possible impending economic collapse, one family’s private struggle is not where we should focus our energies, as a government, or as a people.

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