Saturday, March 26, 2005

"Not Dead Yet"

A colleague sent off an e-mail to a group of us this morning, asking us to think again about the Terry Schiavo case, and this time from the perspective of the disabled community.

She directed us to several links; this one among them:

The argument put forth by this group, "Disabled Queers," is that we should think of Terry as disabled and that those who advocate for the removal of her feeding tube are thereby participating in discrimination against a disabled person.

While I appreciate the bold witness on behalf of Terry's life, I simply cannot regard someone without a cerebral cortex as "disabled." She is far beyond that Pale at this point.

However, the group raises for me this question: if we are to respect the right of disabled persons to have as full a life as they can (and I do), and if we are to respect the value of every life -- even one as limited as Terry Schiavo's in her current condition -- let me ask you this: what do you think is the value of Terry Schiavo's life right now? Ontologically speaking? Outside of the sense of purpose she provides to her parents, her other caregivers, to politicians, and to right-to-lifers who are right now keeping vigil outside her hospital room?

A second point the group makes is that keeping Terry alive via means of a feeding tube is not particularly high tech at all, and does not really amount to "extreme measures." I find this a compelling point. Do you?

Third, all of these groups point to Mr. Schiavo's conflict of interest in standing to benefit both personally and financially from Terry's death. This seems strange to me, or at least terribly naive. I have not kept vigil with a great number of family members and loved ones after a decision has been made to withdraw life support, but I have some. And in every case, yes, there would be some financial and/or personal freedom earned by allowing the loved one to die.
I believe that Mr. Schiavo has already spent close to a million dollars on medical and legal expenses for Terry. Can we really believe that after fifteen years, this is all about hard, cold greed? I think of Schiavo's girlfriend with whom he has a child or two. I imagine she might like to marry the guy. Is that really so depraved?

I truly don't mean to be hurtful in saying this, but I wonder if any of the most outraged folks out there advocating for Terry's life have even thought to connect her eating disorder with her long sojourn in this unconscious twilight, and thus to regard her in a more complex role as one of absolute victim or martyr. The fact that some of them (including children) are actually trying to get into the hospital with bread and water for her -- and they don't mean the bread and water symbolically, either -- speaks to me of a kind of a kind of intentional ignorance that insists on making a saint or martyr out of an ordinary human woman.
People, she can't eat that bread. She can't drink that water. No way, no how. What are you thinking?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eveyday doctors decide to take no extraordinary measures in prolonging a life. "No extraordinary measures" can be even more simple than removing a feeding tube; it could mean sending someone home to die in their own bed. When my mother starved to death from colon cancer, I was fully aware that the doctors could have kept her alive for a few more days (perhaps weeks) in the hospital. However, we all recognized that she needed to come home.

I quiver at the thought of congress telling my mother she must stay in the hospital and live as long as possible in her condition. Sometimes the most loving and ethical thing to do can be simply allowing a person die.

Imagine if we saw the Schiavo case not in terms of the disabled, but in terms of the terminally ill (her cerebral cortex is dead afterall). "Right to lifers," using the same arguments brought out in this case, could keep all sorts of people alive for a few more needless hours. Countless people with more brain function than Terry Schiavo could presently have their lives prolonged by well-meaning families who look at preserving life as a categorical imperative. Persons dying of a variety of illnesses could have their last days stretched out by wiring, prodding and force feeding, but we simply choose not to do this. We let go.

Anonymous Kellie said...

I wholeheartedly agree. My mother has worked as a hopsice RN for almost a decade, and from the stories I hear from her, and what we went through as her mother died from cancer, treatment itself can in many cases be cruel. In my grandmother's case, she went through many courses of chemotherapy to kill the cancer that was slowly invading her body, robbing her her of her strength and eventually comitting her to a hospital bed where she died. I fail to understand how this is humane. I can sympathize with the impulse to keep a loved one alive as long as possible, but I also believe in quality of life, the major tenet of hosipce and pallitive care. I personally would prefer to have my pain eased by medicine and slip away with some dignity, rather than continue to "live" physically imprisoned by my own body because Congress renders a dying individual's wishes irrelevant and instead chooses to insert their own interpretations of "life".
What's more, I feel that no one has considered the physical aspects of death in respect to the Schiavo case: When one's body is attempting to die, it has no further need for nourishment and hydration. From my mother's experience with hospice patients, in their last days and hours, they lose their appetites and refuse food and drink, that is if they were able to naturally. If this is true in Mrs. Schiavo's case, her body has been attempting to die for 15 years, and has been thwarted by modern "miracle" medicine.


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