This is a post by Cindy B, wife of Geoff B:
The Terry Schiavo case seems to be forefront in the media as well as in casual political discussion at the moment. Naturally, someone brought the topic up in my class today, and those who cared to comment (mostly some rather obtuse people to whom it would never occur that others might disagree with them) were appalled that the government would interfere. This woman couldnâ€™t possibly enjoy any kind of decent existence as a vegetable, etc, etc. My gut reaction was to verbally thrash them for their ignorance on several points:
1) The description of this woman as a vegetable. Last I checked vegetables don’t move, open their eyes or smile. In fact, the last carrot or squash I examined failed to move at all.
2) Believing that a man who has been living with (and having kids with) another woman for years has any right to decide as a “husband” that it’s time for Terry to die. Also, they rather callously asserted that her parentâ€™s only reason for keeping her alive was an inability to let go of a child who was already essentially â€œdead.â€
3) Thinking it was humane to starve an innocent and helpless woman to death â€“ a slow and mostly painful 10 to 12 day process that involves the shutdown of several internal organs, eventually leading to cardiac arrest. We are at least humane enough to give a death row inmate a quick death by lethal injection.
4) The indiscriminate acceptance of the major mediaâ€™s opinion on this case. Most of the major media agree with Michael Schiavo. Itâ€™s dangerous to be so uncritical of anything unanimously accepted by all major media sources.
Wanting to avoid a touchy political argument in an inappropriate setting (a Massage Therapy class), I kept my mouth shut. Then on the way home I listened to talk radio, which was dominated by discussions of Terry Schiavo and the federal government’s involvement. Iâ€™m 6 months pregnant at the moment, and I couldnâ€™t help thinking that if this were my child, and he had any kind of life at all â€“ even one void of walking and talking â€“ that I couldnâ€™t simply starve him to death in the belief that I was saving him from a fate worse than death. How can I know heâ€™s living a life worse that death? We have no way of knowing just how much Terry sees and understands. Terry is brain damaged, not brain dead. Perhaps she understands only as much as a tiny infant â€“ perhaps more â€“ but we would never think of withholding food from a tiny infant simply because it canâ€™t verbalize or walk.
Think about this. There are several diseases and disorders that affect a person in a similar manner. Terry is unable to feed herself, but her heart beats and her lungs inhale on their own. A stroke patient, for example, may not be able to speak, and may even suffer dysphagia (the inability to swallow) due to paralysis, but we would never consider withholding food from this person. A child with cerebral palsy may not be able to control his muscles well enough to walk or even swallow, and feeding tubes are used to keep him from becoming malnourished, but if a parent stopped feeding that child, it would be considered murder. Then there is Parkinsonâ€™s Disease, Huntingtonâ€™s Disease, MS, Lou Gehrigâ€™s Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, and several other conditions that may impair movement, verbalization and even the ability to swallow, but we donâ€™t simply pull the plug on these individuals. Even the opponents of keeping Terry alive wouldnâ€™t say that people suffering with these diseases deserve to die in order to save them from incomplete or impaired life experiences. The talk in this case has referred over and over again to the Constitution and whether the government has a right to interfere in Michael Schiavoâ€™s decision. However, letâ€™s go back to an earlier document and take a look at the Declaration of Independence. Have we bothered to ask about Terry Schiavoâ€™s unalienable right to life? Should her husbandâ€™s marital rights override her basic right to survival?
Then it dawned on me that this must be about convenience. We are coming to a point in our society where caring for the disabled and elderly could be viewed as so inconvenient that their lives no longer have any intrinsic value. I truly believe we will be judged as a society by how well we treat the most infirm among us. We must take care with how we approach this womanâ€™s right to live, because it could be a stepping stone to the high road of civilization, or to the low road of barbarism.
I realized something else. Itâ€™s rather disturbing actually. This whole scenario reminds me of a rather sick and twisted scene from Monty Python and the Quest for The Holy Grail. Remember the scene where the mortician is going by with the cart yelling “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!”? Then a man comes out with his old father thrown over one shoulder and bargains with the mortician to take him away. All the while the old man is yelling out, ” I’m not dead yet!” Eventually, the mortician whacks him over the head and throws him on the back of the cart with the other corpses. The Terry Schiavo argument is eerily like that — only it’s not funny.