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On Terri Schiavo
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Thirty-Seven
by Brian S. Wise
17 October 2003Terri

There is no dignity in treatments for which we would be sentenced to prison were Terri Schiavo a dog, and telethons should the process be duplicated several million times and placed on the African continent.

Indulge me these memories: for reasons that remain medically unknown, I went into a seizure while driving on the morning of 22 January 1996, ultimately being brought to rest by a utility pole that refused to budge.  While laying in the emergency room I managed to not only suggest to a police officer he write me two tickets for two separate violations of traffic law (he did), but to mutter into a nurse’s ear the question, “Am I going to die?”  She raised her head, looked me in the eyes and said, “I don’t know.”
Given a similar response, most people would make their peace.  While drifting in and out of consciousness, I decided that if I were to die that morning on that bed, it was okay.  There was certainly no dignity for me in sustaining half of a life, but I was the only person on Earth who knew I had conceded life to quality of life; had outrageous fortune lent a hand and I had slipped into a vegetative state, who would have known it was acceptable, by my belief, to be left to die?  A week later, before going into reconstructive hip surgery, I was given a living will, allowing me to outline the parameters of my existence should everything go wrong.  I wrote, “No outstanding attempt should be made to save my life.”
You would have had a hell of a time convincing me that being fed, if even through an IV, could ever be considered an “outstanding attempt to save my life.”
In regards to Terri Schiavo, it’s entirely possible for someone to have some intellectual sympathies for both sides of the question.  On one hand, tremendous weight should be lent to the idea of someone being left alone to decide their own fate should, as in Schiavo’s case, a heart attack cut off the flow of oxygen to the brain for five minutes and thus ends the productive part of life.  It’s also not illogical to believe this was not a conversation Terri Schiavo would have had with her parents, that it was instead an intimate discussion had between lovers and partners (i.e., Michael Schiavo, her husband) and therefore not necessarily a desire her parents may have known about.
On the other hand, Bob and Mary Schindler as parents have a certain loving, vested interest in their daughter not being starved and dehydrated to death, processes in which one’s body, in the first case, consumes its own mass to the point where skin begins to disappear, eyes begin sinking back into their sockets and the heart fails; and in the second case, the body consumes its own fluids, leaving the skin (and often the tongue) to split open and most of the body’s internal organs to fail.  If the issue is whether Terri Schiavo should finally be allowed a dignified way to die, it goes without saying that there is no dignity in treatments for which we would be sentenced to prison were she a dog, and telethons should the process be duplicated several million times and placed on the African continent.  (That is ongoing, by the way, in case your interest in starving people goes beyond Florida.)
Conservatives are fairly split on the fact Michael Schiavo wants to say goodbye at all; there are a lot of til-death-do-we-parters out there who believe there is never an excuse for a man to abandon his ailing wife.  That, given the current events, is an unrealistic expectation – the man has a fiancé and a child with another on the way,  he’s moving on with his life.  The question is whether Schiavo has enough affection for the memory of his wife as she used to be to step aside – to divorce her – and leave her care to Hospice and the Schindlers, who hold out tremendous hope their daughter Terri will one day be able to eat on her own.  Some doctors examining her say yes, some say no, and in the gray area there is the hope that fuels this controversy.
There is something to be said about Terri Schiavo’s life, that she’s not living, but merely existing.  Yes, but if one begins with the premise that a human has the right to decide if they should be kept alive artificially, you’ll have a long way to go to explain why being fed is at all an artificial consideration, and from that why she should be forced to die, as opposed to being allowed to die naturally.

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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