A Sea of Troubles

On the Terri Schiavo Case

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:15 AM
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream…

An astute observer of this blog might notice that while I usually opine on any major news going on, I've never blogged on Terri Schiavo, despite that case being in the headlines for several years now. I'm not sure if anyone noticed this, but if you did, I figured it is finally time to explain why.

On this case, I just don't know the right answer. I lean toward saying she should be kept on the feeding tube, but with major caveats I shall now explain.

I'm sure most of you know I'm a pro-life fellow. I oppose abortion and I oppose euthanasia; I wish that both were illegal in all parts of these United States. The problem is that I have always seen life support as a different issue from those. I support the right of a family to pull a loved one off life support, if that person's wishes were not to be kept alive artificially. My health directive says as much about myself.

What if I was in Terri Schiavo's position? Would I want to live like that? No. Would I want someone to kill me? No. Would I want someone to artificially keep me alive? No. There is no paradox here; I don't want someone to cause me to die, but nor would I want to live only because a machine was feeding a vegetative remnant of my former self. Now, Michael Schiavo claims that Terri expressed the same sentiments I just have. Unfortunately, she did not write them down or blog them. Can I believe that this happened? Sure, most people in their 20's and 30's don't think a lot about death (by that I do not mean that I do either, but I've been forced to watch it more than I would have liked due to the loss of ten or so close family and friends over the past nine years).

Now, the problem is things get more difficult from here. If she had written out a health directive, it probably would have said that artificial measures should be used if there is hope of recovery. In this case, it would seem Michael Schiavodid not properly attempt to rehabilitate Terri.

So here is my conundrum. I don't want the State to get involved to the point where legitimate desires to remove feeding tubes will become impossible. Well, “desires” is a bad word to use — in most cases, perhaps not this one, I doubt one would desire to do so, but rather think it the right thing to do. It is already too hard, which is unfortunate, because some people may opt not to give a loved one a feeding tube at all for fear that they will never be able to remove it if treatments fail. On the other hand, in this particular case, the feeding tube probably should not be removed unless and until proper rehab measures have been given and fail to help Terri. This would be a reasonable request. The problem is that I have not seen any attempts to argue for this, but rather simply to prevent the removal of the feeding tube, period.

I hope I am never in the state Terri is in, but if I was, I am loathe to think that I could be stuck there for decades simply because the court decided that was the way things are. I certainly would want to be given every chance of recovery, but beyond that… I just have my doubts about modern medicine. I believe we should utilize it when it helps people to recover, but too often it only seems to make dying more agonizing than it would have been in the past. I have said before and will say again that I do not fear death, but I do very much fear dying; modern medicine's increasing abilities bring not only the hope of living healthy and happy for longer, but also the terror of a longer, more terrible dying process.

Thus I sit on the fence. Yesterday, when I saw that Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, I felt sick to my stomach. But legal intervention to keep it in also would have made me queasy. I just don't see this as a black and white case, especially when I consider that its outcome will impact far more scenarios than just this one.

One thing I can be clear about is that I don't agree with Michael Schiavo. If he had been the grieving, loving husband who simply seemed to want to fulfill his wife's expressed wishes, it'd be one thing. But his actions seem to indicate an entirely different story. Who knows, perhaps the speculation that he did something to her to cause this might be true. Given that he has a live-in sex partner girlfriend and children, I don't think he's been fighting so long because he loves his wife so much that he has to do her very wishes. Maybe Michael wants her to die so she doesn't ever recover and reveal what he did.

There just aren't easy answers here. The implications on either side are huge. In the end, I suspect she should be put back on a feeding tube, and given rehab. But if it takes the strong arm of the government to some how do it (if at all possible), it will be a bittersweet victory in the larger legal landscape.

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1 comments posted so far.

Re: A Sea of Troubles

It’s a tough issue for me, too. The only thing I do know is that it isn’t a simple situation and anyone who doesn’t understand the need for discussion doesn’t have their eyes open.

I have a written advance directive, following some of the surgeries and other medical issues I’ve gone through. It goes as far as listing the number of days I want to remain on various levels of support. If I’m brain dead (the official paper lists the technical medical requirements) and can’t breath or pump blood, give my organs to someone who needs them and let me go. If I can breathe and pump blood but am in a coma, I want to be left alive for 180 days. Then, depending on other specific criteria, either pull the tubes or reevaluate in another 180 days. I’m not afraid of death and don’t want family members forced into a situation of financially and emotionally supporting a carcass without a spirit.

This is an area where I don’t want court precedent determining what happens in future situations. Schiavo is an individual case that shouldn’t have bearing on other cases. Personally, I think the husband should admit his selfishness, divorce his wife, and let the parents worry about her. There’s no need for him to pretend. Everyone goes away happy. Well… We don’t know if Terri goes away happy.

Posted by kevin - Mar 20, 2005 | 7:34 AM- Location: Milwaukie, OR

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