Sunday, April 3, 2005

The riddle of euthanasia & the tragedy of Terri Schiavo

Let's agree for the sake of argument that Terri Schiavo really did tell her husband she did not want to be hospitalized indefinitely, hooked up to a machine. Let's also agree she was in a persistent vegetative state that whole messy time (a claim which I deny). This state, this loss of consciousness and intentionality, would suggest she had "passed on" and that it was merely her body being kept "alive" artificially. It is also crucial to recall that the real Terri was the one that allegedly told her husband of her desire for euthanasia.

Now, assuming all this was true, I fail to see how her husband's right to kill her actually fulfilled her supposed wishes to be "unplugged." In fact, I fail to see how euthanasia could *ever* fulfill the wishes of a pre-hospitalized person. But for now let's focus on Terri's particular case. The pro-death argument was more or less that since Terri -- that is, since the inner center of consciousness and rationality that is the true Terri -- had become detached from her atrophying body, then we were not actually killing a real person. You can't murder a vegetable, for the simple reason that murder is a moral action, while vegetables are amoral, or extra-moral, entities. We did not murder Terri because she was beyond murdering, much less rehabilitating. Terri was gone; murder was never an issue; we simply disposed of her body, an amoral assemblage of matter. Or so the pro-death argument went.

But here's the problem: if the real Terri was gone (who can say when?), and if only her body was being kept alive, then the real (pro-euthanasia) Terri was not having her wishes violated. She was *not* being kept alive against her previous wishes, simply because the real Terri of volitional, rational and moral value had already been released. Hence, her husband's desire to starve her body was gratuitous, and his pleas to do the best for Terri were specious precisely because her irrevocable condition simultaneously meant she was free of the relief euthanasia was intended to bring her. If Terri was so far gone, she wasn't suffering, and euthanasia was a worthless intervention *for her sake*.

If, however, a pro-death advocate retorts she should have been euthanized because she was trapped in a brain-damaged body, he *eo ipso* admits the fact that the real Terri was still alive. Lacking consciousness, her “suffering" was merely the attempt of a non-human organism (i.e., the body) to outlast those starving it. This is why the moral weight imputed to Terri's suffering by pro-death advocates backfires. If Terri was cognizant enough for us (and, uh, her husband) to pity, and if euthanasia would have relieved her of pain in a way befitting her moral dignity as a person, then she was clearly not so "vegetative" after all. Admitting Terri was still "human enough" to ask for and deserve euthanasia is simultaneously an admission she was not far gone enough to kill. In the pro-death scheme, if she was truly “persistently vegetative,” her bodily suffering was no assault against her human dignity, and euthanasia was unnecessary. If however, she was not vegetative, but rather still capable of truly *human* suffering, then starving her to death for almost two weeks is absolutely homicidal. She committed no crime. There was no basis for killing her but the desire to be rid of her.

I've caught up enough on this case while Terri was dying, and since she died, to know a simple truth: killing Terri while she was still with us -- and with us in remarkable, touching and disturbing ways -- was murder. Watch those videos. Watch all the videos you can. Listen to the testimony of eye-witness lawyers and attorneys. Behold her vitality and human warmth before she was starved to death. Also face the myths of this case. Ask yourself what you would do if she were your daughter. Ask yourself what you would do if she were your wife: commit her to her doting, grieving family, or starve her to death because you don’t have the “courage” just to divorce her and get on with your life without her dragging you behind? When you have done all these things, you will see that Mr. Schiavo is to euthanasia what O.J. Simpson was to homicide. Both men escaped the demands of morality and legal fairness with the disguise of legal and financial chicanery.

Finally, I'll tell you this much: if Terri's behavior in the videos I just linked to puts her beyond care, compassion, dignity and even rehabilitation, then my mom's entire 25-year career as an occupational therapist for profoundly handicapped children is a sham. I've seen her students. I've touched them. I’ve fed them. I've laughed with them. I've cried and prayed for them. They were just like Terri, and in some cases worse, but they are every one of them God's children. If Terri Schindler-Schiavo was in a PVS, then a PVS isn't such a bad thing to be in.

Why fight over this dead woman? Because she was a martyr for the truth and deserves our veneration. Because someone has to speak the truth Terri was unable to tell. Because the truth must always be proclaimed, regardless of its effectiveness or pleasantness. Because it is left to us to be even more equipped to defend the next target of the culture of death. Because telling it like it is may just prick the consciences of some people into the life that is repentance.

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