Monday, March 28

Terri Schiavo

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Simple minds discuss people." —Unknown

Pardon my French (now and for the couple other times I'll use it in this post), but: Bullshit. I like to think in terms of the big picture. I crave context when in discussion of complex issues. But sometimes complexity is overrated. I think Terri Schiavo's plight boils down to her and her alone, and I don't consider myself simple-minded to say so.

I cannot stand grandstanding. It's coming from both sides concerning Terri Schiavo, so much so that it threatens to overwhelm what's happening to her right now. Many, far far too many people, have taken up one side of the case or the other to score points for their larger cause. On one side sits right-to-lifers, anti-judicial-activism activists, and many Christians (which I am, but comparing Terri Schiavo to Jesus is nauseating); on the other side stands euthanasia supporters and the all-encompassing anti-whatever-the-religious-right-supports crowd. The noise is so deafening that even if Terri Schiavo were able to speak her wishes, she might not be heard.

The fact, is, however, that Terri can't speak her wishes. This places the rest of us in an untenable situation: do we allow her to live, accepting the possibility that she might consider her diminished life less preferable to death, or do we assist her towards the end of her life hoping that somewhere inside she's not fighting to stay alive? Neither is acceptable, which is why so much emphasis is placed on the spouse's opinion in situations like this — someone who's discussed such matters intimately with the focused individual, probably much more than s/he has with his/her parents.

Once again we run into a problem, though, because Michael Schiavo is — and I don't hesitate in the slightest to say this — AN ASSHOLE. Even if you believe him when he says that Terri told him she wouldn't want to be kept alive in this fashion — he's still an asshole. While I can't adequately speak for his mindset, anybody who could watch, hear of, or even think about the manner in which Terri is slowly being killed without fighting like hell to stop it — be they spouse, relative, friend, acquaintance, or perfect stranger . . . well, I fail to think of words awful enough to describe the level of contempt I feel for such a person. And it's especially telling that those advocating Terri's release from this life do so on the basis that her condition remains unchanged for the last decade and a half. In that case, even if it's not improving, it's not deteriorating, either. The most generous explanation I can think of concerning Michael Schiavo's wish to allow Terri to die — which, by the way, he was staunchly against for the first several years of her condition — is that he's racked with guilt for sleeping next to another woman while the the person he pledged his life to, in sickness and in health, lied alone and, until recently, mostly uncared about in some godforsaken hospice. If her time had truly come, if there were absolutely no chance she could ever survive without drastic and extraordinary assistance, it would be different entirely; but since she wouldn't die unless she was deliberately deprived of food and water, that would be the necessary step. To assuage his conscience, he's convinced himself and a slew of others that it's what she would have wanted.

If someone did this to a dog, they'd be arrested, and rightly so. If someone did this to another person in ordinary circumstances, they'd be eligible to be killed themselves — again, justifiably so (at least in my opinion). Hell, we don't treat Death Row inmates or Guantanamo Bay prisoners in this fashion. It's cruelty and barbarism of the first degree. But based on one judge's ruling that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state — a completely vague and malleable diagnosis — Michael Schiavo now wields the powers of God for her. Subsequent appeals have been futile since the original ruling was judicially allowable even if heinous in implication. And even a Congressional order merely to re-examine the case from square one was brushed aside.

Michael Schiavo is such an asshole that it makes me reach conclusions I otherwise wouldn't. In any normal circumstance I'd be outraged that Congress felt the need to interject themselves and proclaim jurisdiction. But since this is quite literally a matter of life and death — perhaps not a "quality" life but certainly a violent, brutal death — and the basis on which the life-and-death decision is being made is judicially flimsy, medically suspect and morally reprehensible, I have to come down on their side. I'd consider it laughable that Florida Governor Jeb Bush attempted to assume custody of Terri Schiavo himself; but again, given the circumstances, I don't think it's bold enough.

But the biggest reversal I've made with my own longstanding opinion on such matters is that ordinarily, not only would I approve of someone in Terri Schiavo's condition to consider euthanasia, I'd support the rights of Michael to fight for that cause . . . if it were what she wanted. Given Michael's incredible conflicts and otherwise assholishness, though, I hardly consider him a credible witness to Terri's desires.

I reject the either/or conundrum posited by right-to-lifers that as long as the heart still beats, the life within should be preserved absolutely. Far more brilliant minds than mine, from Aristotle to Descartes, have debated the essence of what it means to be alive from the first moments of human sentience. In fact, it is that human sentience that grants us our superiority on this earth and our protection by law from attempts to end our lives. Someone who suffers brain trauma and loses the abilities of sentience and communication has clearly lost that which makes us unique in our humanity.

But that's talking about ideas. Terri Schiavo is an individual. Videos clearly indicate that she is not brain-dead — she reacts to stimuli. But so do plants and the simplest organisms. It's a decision I don't enjoy making, but, at least to me, Terri Schiavo fails Descartes' test of humanity. To what extent has she lost it, and what could possibly be regained? Nobody knows — the proper tests haven't been performed, as per the commands of the asshole she married.

If I were in Terri Schiavo's condition — unable to enjoy the sublime nature of human existence because the relevant parts of my brain had all but dissolved — I'd rather be dead (though I'd prefer a morphine overdose to starvation). I don't consider a life like that life at all and would — and intend to, now — take the relevant steps while I still consciously understand the consequences of that action. Terri Schiavo didn't do that. Michael Schiavo wants to do it for her for reasons unknown.

Even though the courts have conferred it upon him, I don't believe he has the authority.


Location: Mishawaka, Indiana, United States

I graduated with an English degree from the University Of Notre Dame in 2001, and in 2008 I have a day job that has nothing to do with my degree but gets the bills paid in a semi-regular fashion. (I have running water five days a week!) The idea is that once I get turned around on my bills, I go to grad school. I also have an idea for cold fusion. Anyone's guess which will be feasible first. In non-work mode, I'm usually reading columns by famous and well-read thinkers, blogs by critically praised writers, or sometimes blogs by overzealous cranks who make me laugh. I yearn to be all three at once; until then I'll settle for being the third. I also have an undying love for the Chicago Cubs and Notre Dame football. Praise them and I'll buy you a beer; curse them and I'll dump it over your head. If that's not enough, I'm becoming quite the fan of no-limit Texas Hold'em. My games have one of two results: I either win all the money or whine because I didn't win all the money.

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Damn right.


What's Your Line?


I absolutely love the name of your site.

Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson, Power Line
Just the name? Not the content? . . . I'll take it.

You have something in common with Dave Barry, Hemingway, and Mark Steyn: I'm not linking to them, either.


That's good stuff there Mark.

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Psst, it's "Mike."

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