Not Dead Yet

I come not to assail the Ivy League, but to praise it. This article on the Terri Schiavo case by a Harvard student with cerebral palsy makes the argument that the people allowing her to die are nothing more than bigots against the disabled. I agree completely. This is a must-read article if you are interested in this case.

Here is what he says:

In the Schiavo case and others like it, non-disabled decision makers assert that the disabled person should die because he or she—ordinarily a person who had little or no experience with disability before acquiring one—“would not want to live like this.†In the Schiavo case, the family is forced to argue that Terri should be kept alive because she might “get betterâ€â€”that is, might be able to regain or to communicate her cognitive processes. The mere assertion that disability (particularly cognitive disability, sometimes called “mental retardationâ€) is present seems to provide ample proof that death is desirable.

Essentially, then, we have arrived at the point where we starve people to death because he or she cannot communicate their experiences to us. What is this but sheer egotism? Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this is obviously an attempt to play God.

Without replaying the endless “right to life” debate that seems never to arrive at anything new, can we agree that it is indeed indecent and unbecoming of our society to presume to know what Terry Schiavo is experiencing? Can we agree that the way she is being allowed to die is horrible and painful?

I’m pretty sure my wife knew nothing about the “Not Dead Yet” organization when she made her comments here. But it’s ironic that the first thing she thought about was Monty Python and the attempt to kill somebody who’s still a living human being. For the record, this is how the disabled see themselves, as this article shows.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

13 thoughts on “Not Dead Yet

  1. You say “Cam we agree that it is indeed indecent … to presume to know what Terry Schiavo is experiencing” and immediately follow with “Can we agree that the way she is being allowed to die is horrible and painful”

    Your second question presumes we know what Terry is experiencing, but your first question prohibits us from making that presumption.

    For all we know, Terry has been experiencing daily excruciating pain for the last 10 years.

    I don’t understand why we are all focusing our attention on Terry, when every day hundreds of people are making the decision to take their loved ones off of life support all over the country.

  2. [C]an we agree that it is indeed indecent and unbecoming of our society to presume to know what Terry Schiavo is experiencing? Can we agree that the way she is being allowed to die is horrible and painful?

    No to both questions.

    This ABC News story describes how much we know about Terri Schiavo’s condition.

    And this one describes the peace and serenity the accompany death following the removal of a feeding tube.

    The facts in this case have been determined and accepted by every court that has heard them: Terri Schiavo’s cerebral cortex has been completely destroyed and replaced by cerebrospinal fluid. The only part of her brain that remains intact is the brain stem, which allows her to survive (with a feeding tube) even though she no longer has any cognitive function.

  3. Can you possibly be serious? Yes, I guess you can. Lot’s of people think the way you do.

    Every day I learn more about mankind.

  4. It seems to me that there is a huge difference between being brain dead with regards to higher brain functions and being disabled.

  5. Adam Greenwood (#3):

    Can you possibly be serious? Yes, I guess you can. Lot’s [sic] of people think the way you do.
    Every day I learn more about mankind.

    Please note here that, instead of dealing with the evidence in this case, Adam has employed an ad hominem attack on my intelligence and moral capacity.

  6. Mike, you are correct that ad hominem attacks get you no where in terms of furthering debate. But he is probably expressing the opinion, which I share, that your position on this issue is so far different than mine (and I’m guessing his) that there is absolutely no common ground on which to debate. Nothing is more tiring than debating somebody when the basic language is not even held in common. So, it’s probably just best to let it lie, which is what I have chosen to do.

  7. Geoff B (#6):

    [Adam] is probably expressing the opinion, which I share, that your position on this issue is so far different than mine (and I’m guessing his) that there is absolutely no common ground on which to debate.

    Of course there is common ground: the facts of the case.

    • All of Terri’s brain has been destroyed, except for the brain stem.
    • Disconnecting brain dead individuals from feeding tubes happens hundreds of times across the U.S. every year, and is a commonly-accepted practice of letting people go who are unconscious, unaware, and beyond any hope of recovery.
    • Terri is showing no signs of distress (external or internal) after having been off her feeding tube for nearly two weeks, confirming that she is not dying in a “horrible and painful” way.

    These are the issues here, and the only response from social conservatives that I’ve seen has been demagoguery.

  8. Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Particularly disappointing has been the savaging of Michael Schiavo on the scantest of evidence, when, in the whole sordid ordeal, he has been one of the few to exhibit any dignity or restraint.

  9. I’m struck by how “open and shut” some commenters seem to think this case is. It is not a simple case at all.

    I find this case fascinating professionally and agonizing morally. It really is the perfect storm– I deal with this issue all the time in my work and the situations I see never even come close to this one, to say nothing of the cast of characters here.

    It’s important to get the debate right. Terri Schiavo isn’t brain dead. It’s not clear what she is. Some say she is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and my guess is that’s true. Many have complained that she has never had an MRI or PET scan, but doctors I work with say those two tests would not tell us anything new about her. There is a chance she is “minimally conscious,” not in PVS, and that is what some of the protesters have been complaining about very loudly.

    As nearly as I can tell, the issues are: (1) is she really in PVS? (2) what would her wishes be if she could decide on her own? and (3) is her husband really acting in her best interests? I don’t think anyone can answer these questions who is not intimately familiar with the entire court record in the matter. I suppose that’s why many are clamoring for federal review, just so all the questions can be answered once and for all.

    Having said that, I am pretty confident that it was unconstitutional for Congress to establish federal rule of a final state court decision, and if it is not unconsitutional it was a bad idea and an erosion of federalism. But it doesn’t seem to me that any of the participants in this circus have convered themselves in glory.

    From an LDS perspective, the only guidance our Church gives on end-of-life issues is that euthanasia (active steps to end life) is wrong, but that “when dying becomes inevitable” is should be accepted as part of the eternal plan. Clearly that guidance leaves lots of room for agonizing and for deeply prayerful decisions. (That’s how it was for my family when my mother passed away four years ago.)

    That guidance makes the Schiavo case pretty interesting. Her death is not inevitable and she is not terminal. A strong case can be made that unless someone’s death is imminent due to an ongoing pathology (cancer, heart or other major organ failure) we ought to be very reluctant to take steps that will cause that person’s death– such as withholding nutrition and hydration. I am not saying the decision is clear that she should be maintained on her feeding tube; I’m saying it is an agonizingly difficult call and any doubts ought to be resolved in favor of not causing Terri Schiavo’s death.

  10. Lowell, while I agree with you in terms of how the debate has raged, it seems to me that if her brain is really as mush as the doctors say, then the debate is over.

    BTW – did anyone see the South Park tonight on this issue?

  11. Clark: We just don’t know. But assuming, just for purposes of discussion, that her brain is really “mush,” how confident can we be that she would wish to die in these circumstances? I don’t think the debate is over at all. Apart from her wishes, and putting the matter in an LDS context, I ask myself: If my mother, sister, or wife were in that situation, how confident could I be be that our Father in heaven would want her life to end? I am not sure I could easily say, “Well, her brain is mush, so I am going to stop giving her food and water until she dies.”

    How do you decide whose life is worth living? Our own Orson Scott Card develops that inquiry a little more here. I recommend his piece to everyone.

  12. I think it really depends upon what you mean by living. At a certain point whether one is alive or not, one isn’t living.

    The point of the South Park episode was really that we are so concerned with life at all costs that we ignore what God wants and frequently what the costs really are.

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