Friday, March 11, 2005

Murder by Indolence

Against all odds, Terry Schiavo is still alive. That could be the starting sentence to a piece about the miracles of modern medicine, or the will to live, or the strength of family, but it is not. It is an examination into deliberate cruelty, the continuing attempt by many to pronounce a social blessing on an expedient murder. Yet by the grace of God, Terry Schiavo remains alive.

Some pretend that this case is complex. In truth, that’s not really so, but some of the parties involved have done their worst to blur the facts and suggest a moral equivalency between their position and the truth, with just a nudge more to their own side, so they can get their way without having to consider the evil their choice represents.

In 1990, Terry Schiavo suffered a heart attack, and because of complications (which resulted in a successful malpractice claim) became unable to care for herself, specifically to eat and drink on her own due to brain damage. From this point, two opinions have been set out – one contends that Terry Schiavo is in a “persistent vegetative state” and should be allowed to die, while the other contends that Terry is not only alive but conscious. Unfortunately, the question cannot be scientifically confirmed one way or the other. There is clear brainwave activity and motor activity in muscles, denying the traditional notion of a person being kept alive by a machine. In fact, Terry does not need artificial breathing or cardiac assistance, so except for the feeding tube, she is as alive as many senior citizens or mentally disabled children. On the other hand, Terry is unable to speak or write to express herself in a manner confirming she is aware of the world.

The matter is distilled, in most minds, to four pieces of evidence. First, is a video made by Terry’s parents, which appears to show the woman making eye contact, and responding to people around her. That is compelling on a subjective level, but since it cannot be repeated under laboratory controls, it does not sway scientists and doctors, even as it hardens the conviction of the 'Let Terry Live’ faction that to remove her feeding tube is murder.

Next, is the legal definition of Michael Schiavo as Terry’s legal guardian. Like it or not, as Terry’s husband, Michael has the legal authority to speak for Terry.

Third, is the matter of the ‘PVS’ condition. There is no clinical definition, especially as there have been cases where patients regained consciousness from similar conditions to Terry Schiavo’s, most famously Sarah Scantlin (hat tip: Jollyblogger), and Terry’s parents have produced doctors who testified that Terry’s condition does not meet the definition of PVS. We must therefore, bear in mind that the decision to kill Terry depends on an unproven claim, even among the medical witnesses.

The fourth condition is the most critical: Terry had no ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order or any sort of ‘Right to Die’ document drawn up. Also, Michael Schiavo has not been able to support his contention that Terry would want to die in these circumstances. As a result, any decision to remove the feeding tube must be made in the knowledge that the patient did not consent to the action. To kill someone against their consent, who has not been convicted of a capital crime, is murder by any reasonable measure.

Why does Michael want Terry dead? Is he greedy, looking for money, or is he trying to cover up a past history of abuse, as some have claimed? Is he just tired after more than a decade with Terry in this condition, or is the fact that he has a girlfriend who lives with him in the house an indicator of his rejection of his wife? Why doesn’t he just let Terry’s parents take over as her guardians, divorce her and move on? I don’t know and I don’t care, really. Michael has done nothing to convince me he is thinking about Terry’s welfare, and that’s all there is to that. As to the courts, I find it laughable, that the last verdict claimed that the court could not step in. The courts have seen fit to redefine what a marriage is, what racism is, what religion is, what the rights of a legislature is, even what the Constitution means, yet they don’t feel they can step in to protect a woman from being murdered, simply because a couple people find her condition inconvenient to her lifestyles. Consider the hypocrisy here; less than a month ago, the US Supreme Court said that convicted murderers could not be put to death if they were teens at the time they murdered people, but an Appeals Court has ruled that an innocent woman may be murdered in her bed because her husband is tired of her. Imagine that system deciding your fate, because sooner or later it very well might.

May God save Terry Schiavo from her husband, and our nation from our judges.

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