March 28, 2005

Let's Not Delude Ourselves About the Consequences of Killing Terri Schiavo

This posting builds on four previous postings on Terri Schiavo (I, II, III, IV).

Thanks to Power Line for highlighting this article, entitled "Bigotry and the Murder of Terri Schiavo," by a Harvard alumnus who suffers from severe cerebral palsy:

The case of Terri Schiavo has been framed by the media as the battle between the “right to die” and pro-life groups, with the latter often referred to as "right-wing Christians." Little attention has been paid to the more than twenty major disability rights organizations firmly supporting Schiavo’s right to nutrition and hydration. Terri Schindler-Schiavo, a severely disabled woman, is being starved and dehydrated to death in the name of supposed "dignity"...

...A close examination of the Schiavo case reveals not a case of difficult decisions but a basic test of this country's decency...

Our country has learned that we cannot judge people on the basis of minority status, but for some reason we have not erased our prejudice against disability...

Essentially, then, we have arrived at the point where we starve people to death because he or she cannot communicate their experiences to us. What is this but sheer egotism? Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this is obviously an attempt to play God.

Not Dead Yet, an organization of persons with disabilities who oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia, maintains that the starvation and dehydration of Terri Schiavo will put the lives of thousands of severely disabled children and adults at risk...Not Dead Yet exposes important biases in the "right to die" movement, including the fact that as early as 1988, Jack Kevorkian advertised his intention of performing medical experimentation ("hitherto conducted on rats") on living children with spina bifida, at the same time harvesting their organs for reuse.

Besides being disabled, Schiavo and I have something important in common, that is, someone attempted to terminate my life by removing my endotracheal tube during resuscitation in my first hour of life. This was a quality-of-life decision: I was simply taking too long to breathe on my own, and the person who pulled the tube believed I would be severely disabled if I lived, since lack of oxygen causes cerebral palsy. (I was saved by my family doctor inserting another tube as quickly as possible.) The point of this is not that I ended up at Harvard and Schiavo did not, as some people would undoubtedly conclude. The point is that society already believes to some degree that it is acceptable to murder disabled people.

As Schiavo starves to death, we are entering a world last encountered in Nazi Europe. Prior to the genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and Poles, the Nazis engaged in the mass murder of disabled children and adults, many of whom were taken from their families under the guise of receiving treatment for their disabling conditions. The Nazis believed that killing was the highest form of treatment for disability.

...This sick twisting of medical ethics led to a sense of fulfillment of duty experienced by Nazi doctors, leading them to a conviction that they were relieving suffering. Not Dead Yet has uncovered the same perverse sense of duty in members of the Hemlock Society, now called End-of-Life Choices. (In 1997, the executive director of the Hemlock Society suggested that judicial review be used regularly "when it is necessary to hasten the death of an individual whether it be a demented parent, a suffering, severely disabled spouse or a child." This illustrates that the "right to die" movement favors the imposition of death sentences on disabled people by means of the judicial branch.)

For an overview of what "end-of-life choices" mean for Schiavo, I refer you to the Exit Protocol prepared for her in 2003 by her health care providers (available online). In the midst of her starvation, Terri will most likely be treated for "pain or discomfort" and nausea which may arise as the result of the supposedly humane process of bringing about her death. (Remember that Schiavo is not terminally ill.) She may be given morphine for respiratory distress and may experience seizures. This protocol confirms what we have learned from famines and death camps: death by starvation is a horrible death.

This apparently is what it means to have "rights" as a disabled person in America today.

JunkYardBlog has a posting on the possible consequences of Terri's death:

The Schiavo Precedent will soon stand alongside the Groningen Protocol as hideous manifestations of the end of morality in the West...up until a couple of weeks ago you needed a living will to express your wish to die--your wish to live was the default position. Without a living will that explicitly said you did not want heroic measures taken to save your life, heroic measures would be taken to save your life. That was the default view.

Not anymore.

Now you need a living will to keep someone from killing you intentionally when you are at your most vulnerable. Allow me to explain.

Hearsay evidence is now enough to get you killed. Anything you have ever said, and anything someone else wants you to have said, will now have the force of law in these matters. Terri Schiavo is being killed on the word of her husband, who says she said she'd rather die than live disabled after watching a movie about a disabled person. That flatly contradicts the word of her best friend, who says Terri never said or believed any such thing. It also contradicts Michael Schiavo himself, who for years after her tragedy told friends and family members that he didn't know what Terri would have wanted, because she never said what she wanted. But now the words he says she said are enough now to get her starved to death...

That is the Schiavo Precedent.

We've come a long way, baby.

One of the lingering questions for us non-lawyers was how the key legal issues in the case were settled when there appeared to be contradictory or incomplete evidence. This topic is addressed by a Florida lawyer and highlighted in another Power Line posting:

Something that interests me about the Terri Schiavo case, and that doesn't seem to have gotten much media attention: The whole case rests on the fact that the Schindlers (Terri's parents) were totally outlawyered by the husband (Michael Schiavo) at the trial court level.

This happened because, in addition to getting a $750K judgment for Terri's medical care, Michael Schiavo individually got a $300K award of damages for loss of consortium, which gave him the money to hire a top-notch lawyer to represent him on the right-to-die claim.

By contrast, the Schindlers had trouble even finding a lawyer who would take their case since there was no money in it. Finally they found an inexperienced lawyer who agreed to take it partly out of sympathy for them, but she had almost no resources to work with and no experience in this area of the law. She didn't even depose Michael Schiavo's siblings, who were key witnesses at the trial that decided whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive. Not surprisingly, Felos steamrollered her...

...the trial judge...entered a judgment finding that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to live.

This fact is of crucial importance -- and it's one often not fully appreciated by the media, who like to focus on the drama of cases going to the big, powerful appeals courts: Once a trial court enters a judgment into the record, that judgment's findings become THE FACTS of the case, and can only be overturned if the fact finder (in this case, the judge) acted capriciously (i.e., reached a conclusion that had essentially no basis in fact).

In this case, the trial judge simply chose to believe Michael Schiavo's version of the facts over the Schindlers'. Since there was evidence to support his conclusion (in the form of testimony from Michael Schiavo's siblings), it became nearly impossible for the Schindlers to overturn it. The judges who considered the case after the trial-level proceeding could make decisions only on narrow questions of law. They had no room to ask, "Hey, wait a minute, would she really want to die?" That "fact" had already been decided.

The Power Line writer, himself an attorney, then adds this comment in the posting:

...what this lawyer says is correct. The reason why appeals don't often succeed is that all fact-finding is done in the trial court. If there is evidence to support the facts found by the judge or the jury, those facts are set in concrete from that point on. The question on appeal is only whether proper procedures were followed and the law was correctly applied. It is not hard to imagine that the Schindlers had no idea what they were getting into, and were ill-equipped, financially and otherwise, to fight a legal battle against their son-in-law. By the time they started garnering outside support, it was too late.

I find it deeply disturbing to consider how malpractice suit proceeds - which Michael Schiavo ensured were never used for the purposes he originally promised - were instead used to outmaneuver legally the Schindlers for the purpose of having Terri die.

As a recipient of a number of emails declaring that the facts of the case (such as Terri's intent or her alleged vegetative state) were not in question, I hope some of those writers will consider - with appropriate humility - that this clarification about legal procedures shows how all of the facts in this case might not have been fairly recognized by the court.

As the end of Terri's life appears imminent, I would also like to offer one additional personal comment: Over the course of my writings on this issue, I have been struck by the condescending, anti-religious venom spewing out of the mouths of numerous people who support bringing on Terri's death. As a practicing Roman Catholic who is religious but not a fundamentalist, I find it highly offensive that thoughtful religious people are so unreasonably denigrated and deemed extremists. Michelle Malkin elaborates on this point in her writing about the religious bigotry of the mainstream media (MSM):

Over the weekend, I wondered why the mainstream media was ignoring some amazing stories of pro-life activists and evangelical disabled advocates who have been peacefully keeping vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice.

Michelle Cottle of The New Republic, who appeared on CNN's "Reliable Sources" on Sunday, provides some candid insight into the bigoted mindset of the MSM that explains their focus on the religious extremists and their apathy towards peaceful people of faith who don't fit the MSM caricature:

[Howard] Kurtz: Michelle Cottle, has the press ridiculed, or maybe I should say marginalized, religious people who believed the Terri Schiavo must be kept alive as a matter of Christian morality?

Cottle: Well, it's not that they get out there and make fun of them. It's just you come with a ready-made kind of visual here. You have people on the streets praying. They're, you have very dramatic and even melodramatic protests and things like this.

These people are very easy to kind of just poke fun at without even saying anything. You just kind of show these people. And the majority of Americans who don't get out there and do this kind of, you know, really dramatic displays feel a little bit uncomfortable on that level.

...Keep...Cottle's revealing statement in mind as the MSM hypes the story of a small minority of agitators disturbing the peace down in Pinellas Park...

Jeff Jarvis excoriates the media for supposedly pandering to the "religious right:"

The religious right is separating itself from the rest of America. The theocrats may have finally gone too far too often. They have been aided and abetted --- but ultimately undermined -- by a media that bought their PR and presented the loud voices of a few as the voice of the nation marching to the right and up to the altar.

"Aided and abetted" by the MSM? Are you kidding me? Jeff Jarvis, meet Michelle Cottle. The undermining is no accident.

In a separate posting, Michelle Malkin continues on a related subject:

One of the pro-abortion Left's favorite attacks on people of faith is that we only care about children before they're born and not afterwards...

For millions of Americans of faith of all ages, standing up for the sanctity of life is not just an empty slogan--but a deeply-held principle put into action daily. The MSM had ample opportunity to tell the stories of some of the inspiring people who have stood vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice. Instead, as they have done throughout this ordeal, they looked the other way.

I believe the religious beliefs of many Americans motivate them to act according to the Old Testament words found in Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what the Lord doeth require of thee, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Contrast those words with the "euphemisms about life and death" by people who advocate killing Terri as found in this National Review editorial by Rich Lowry. (And, then consider this Kathryn Lopez article if you think there are not forces actively pushing to expand the culture of death in America.)

I further believe the religious beliefs of many Americans inform their approach to this issue in two key ways:

First, history has taught us repeatedly that great evil can occur when important ethical issues are casually dismissed or ignored. This and earlier postings have highlighted how there are broad ethical issues here even if there is a lack of complete agreement about all of the facts in Terri's case.

Second, legal precedents matter in America and people of ill will could ensure Terri's case becomes the basis for future evil.

Peggy Noonan, in a recent editorial, expands on this in her typically eloquent fashion:

God made the world or he didn't.

God made you or he didn't.

If he did, your little human life is, and has been, touched by the divine. If this is true, it would be true of all humans, not only some. And so--again, if it is true--each human life is precious, of infinite value, worthy of great respect.

Most--not all, but probably most--of those who support Terri Schiavo's right to live believe the above. This explains their passion and emotionalism. They believe they are fighting for an invaluable and irreplaceable human life. They are like the mother who is famously said to have lifted the back of a small car off the ground to save a child caught under a tire. You're desperate to save a life, you're shot through with adrenaline, your strength is for half a second superhuman, you do the impossible.

That is what they are trying to do...

I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people. What is driving their engagement? Is it because they are compassionate, and their hearts bleed at the thought that Mrs. Schiavo suffers? But throughout this case no one has testified that she is in persistent pain, as those with terminal cancer are.

If they care so much about her pain, why are they unconcerned at the suffering caused her by the denial of food and water? And why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead." Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."

Everyone who has written in defense of Mrs. Schiavo's right to live has received e-mail blasts full of attacks that appear to have been dictated by the unstable and typed by the unhinged. On Democratic Underground they crowed about having "kicked the sh-- out of the fascists." On Tuesday James Carville's face was swept with a sneer so convulsive you could see his gums as he damned the Republicans trying to help Mrs. Schiavo. It would have seemed demonic if he weren't a buffoon.

Why are they so committed to this woman's death?

They seem to have fallen half in love with death.

What does Terri Schiavo's life symbolize to them? What does the idea that she might continue to live suggest to them?

Why does this prospect so unnerve them? Again, if you think Terri Schiavo is a precious human gift of God, your passion is explicable. The passion of the pull-the-tube people is not.

I do not understand their certainty. I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are. We can't know, but we can "err on the side of life." How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex."

I do not understand why people who want to save the whales (so do I) find campaigns to save humans so much less arresting. I do not understand their lack of passion. But the save-the-whales people are somehow rarely the stop-abortion-please people.

The PETA people, who say they are committed to ending cruelty to animals, seem disinterested in the fact of late-term abortion, which is a cruel procedure performed on a human.

I do not understand why the don't-drill-in-Alaska-and-destroy-its-prime-beauty people do not join forces with the don't-end-a-life-that-holds-within-it-beauty people.

I do not understand why those who want a freeze on all death penalty cases in order to review each of them in light of DNA testing--an act of justice and compassion toward those who have been found guilty of crimes in a court of law--are uninterested in giving every last chance and every last test to a woman whom no one has ever accused of anything.

There are passionate groups of women in America who decry spousal abuse, give beaten wives shelter, insist that a woman is not a husband's chattel. This is good work. Why are they not taking part in the fight for Terri Schiavo? Again, what explains their lack of passion on this? If Mrs. Schiavo dies, it will be because her husband, and only her husband, insists she wanted to, or would want to, or said she wanted to in a hypothetical conversation long ago. A thin reed on which to base the killing of a human being.

The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.) Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you? But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry? But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

Terri Schiavo may well die. No good will come of it. Those who are half in love with death will only become more red-fanged and ravenous.

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning. What terrible stories are shaping them. They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio. They are seeing a society--their society, their people--on the verge of famously accepting, even embracing, the idea that a damaged life is a throwaway life.

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you "know" that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz. Today that road runs through Pinellas Park, Fla.

Whether certain people like it or not, there will be future consequences to killing Terri Schiavo. Let's not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.

What ethical values do you want America to stand for? What ethical values do you want to pass along to our children?

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I probably shouldn't be posting this, but I'm rather upset after reading about Terri's father.

I believe in a right to die and I don't believe Terri should be dieing right now until one way or the other all uncertainty about her condition is gone and if she does indeed have a minimal level of consciousness she should remain alive.

But when I read that her parents proclaimed they don't recognize Terri's right to die even had she made an explicit wish I frowned. When I read her father gave his own mother a peaceful death by pulling the plug on her I had a sour taste.

I can't reconsile the reasoning that he would euthanize his own mother, but state he won't let his daughter die no matter what her state, no matter how hopeless.

I know this doesn't take anything away from Terri's current situation one way or the other, but I'm honestly at this point starting to doubt whether her parents' desire isn't in some part fueled by guilt and a refusal to accept what has happened to their daughter.

Posted by: Vanessa at March 29, 2005 4:25 PM

Vanessa: Your comments about Terri's father are not consistent with anything I have read. Can you document your claim about his comments?

Posted by: DBH at March 31, 2005 6:49 PM