As I begin to type this article, Terri Schiavo has gone 149 hours without food or water, based on the wishes of her husband Michael Schiavo, his statement that she didn’t want to remain alive like this, and the agreement of a multitude of judges. Much has been spoken and written about Terri’s situation, and much of it is emotionally charged. I have used some fairly harsh language myself, but mostly toned it down when I typed here. Peggy Noonan wrote about the characteristics of one of the two sides recently:
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.”
The way I see it, there is only a small set of possibilities in this situation: Terri is either completely brain dead and a vegetable, or she is not. She either truly wished to be allowed to die, or she did not. She will either be fed, or she will not. The legal decision not to feed her is currently leading to her death. Let’s tie these sets of possibilities to the overriding idea of doing the least amount of harm to Terri. I’m focusing on harm because of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors used to swear. It says, in part, “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.” [emphasis mine] Doctors no longer swear the Hippocratic Oath. I think it is mainly because of the part further down that says, “Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion.” But that’s just my take.
Going back to harm, below is a grid of the possibilities and whether or not Terri would suffer harm by each set of options:
|Wants to die||Yes||No||Yes||No|
If Terri is brain dead, it really doesn’t matter to her what happens. If she is brain dead, then Terri doesn’t live there anymore. Nothing done to her will affect her. But if she is not brain dead, then there are options that will harm her: either through feeding her when she wants to die, or not feeding her if she wishes to live. It would appear to me that the only chance of causing Terri harm comes if she is not, in fact, brain dead. That should be the first item to be determined. Michael Schiavo has succeeded in convincing the court that Terri is brain dead. If we accept that as fact, then nothing that is done to Terri at this point makes any difference to her.
Since neither being fed nor starved will harm Terri, we need to see who else will be harmed. If Terri is not fed and she dies, Terri’s parents, family and friends will be harmed. They have proven their concerns by their frantic actions to keep her alive and fed. Clearly Michael will not be harmed if she dies, because he is the primary person fighting for her death. That result is precisely his desire. Who will be harmed if Terri is fed and allowed to live? No one will be harmed. This end would satisfy Terri’s family and not harm them, and Michael Schiavo would not be harmed because his life would continue to be precisely as it is now. I say that Michael is not currently being harmed because he has shown an absolute unwillingness to divorce Terri. If he were truly suffering from the situation of Terri’s incapacitation, he could leave her. That he has steadily refused to divorce Terri tells me that he prefers the status quo over divorce, and Terri’s death above all else.
Who is struggling to keep Terri alive? Well, it certainly isn’t Michael. When I first heard this issue years ago, I was struck with an elegant solution. You see, Solomon had a similar issue when he had to judge which of two women was the real mother of a living child. He called for a sword and ordered that the child be chopped in two. The actual mother was willing to see the child given away as long as he stayed alive; the false mother was willing to see the child suffer the fate of the Gordian Knot. Solomon saw who truly loved the boy and returned him to his mother. To use Solomon’s solution in a modern context, Terri’s parents are fighting to keep her alive while her husband is fighting for her to die. The Solomonic solution is to give Terri to the people who really love her.
But that is not what the judges have done in this case. They obviously lack the wisdom of Solomon. In fact, they do not even rise to the level of the Roman soldier who tried to give vinegar and gall to another thirsty, suffering person.
Addendum (3/24/2005): Gov. Jeb Bush wanted the Florida Department of Children & Families to take custody of Terri Schiavo. Judge Greer denied this request and gave the Florida governor the judicial middle finger. As I was typing the above, the Florida Supreme Court seconded the judicial middle finger by refusing to overturn Judge Greer’s decision.
153 hours now.
Addendum (3/24/2005): Yay! I no longer get time-outs connecting to Good Richard’s Almanac. Richard points out what President Bush and Gov. Bush can do now that the judicial branch has blocked all attempts to save Terri’s life: ignore the courts. His other points are very good, so read the rest of his archives. What are you waiting for?
Addendum (3/25/2005): 170 hours, and Terri’s father says she is “down to her last hours.” Drudge also reports that a ten year old has been arrested for the crime of water. It’s a good thing we have the police there to allow Terri to die. Otherwise they’d be off wasting their time arresting folk like Scott Peterson.
The Weekly Standard has a trio of good articles that are well worth reading.
Addendum (3/26/2005): It’s been 190 hours. At this time, the likelihood of a reprieve by anyone swiftly reaches the vanishing point. Not being a doctor myself, I don’t know if there is a point where the effects of dehydration have taken Terri’s body beyond recovery. If she were to have her tube reconnected, has her body reached the point where it is already too late?
Good Richard is asked if anarchy is what he wants when he pointed out that Gov. Bush and President Bush could step into this issue more forcefully. They are, after all, the executives of Florida and the United States, respectively. They have the power and authority to order the members of the executive branch to act, and there is precedent for the executive to ignore the judiciary. Heck, we just saw judges ignore the expressed will of both Congress and the President. Is it so awful for the executive to ignore the judges? There would be a political price to pay for such an act, and there will be a political price to pay if they don’t. Best to err on the side of life, no? Richard lists an undeniable fact, and asks at what point the number of forced starvations forces us to act:
It is a fact that there is an American citizen being forcibly starved to death in Florida tonight. People are being arrested as they attempt to bring her food and water.
If you believe the forced starvation of this one woman is not enough to risk the stability of the nation over, then you must believe there is some number of forced starvations that are acceptable before it’s severe enough to risk the stability of the nation.
How many forced starvations are enough to risk the stability of the nation?
This basic question is posed to Johnny Rico as he attends Officer Candidates School in Robert Heinlein’s book, Starship Troopers. His class is given the hypothetical situation of captured prisoners being held by the other side after the end of a war. Here is almost a page worth of the discussion pared down by me:
“Are a thousand unreleased prisoners sufficient reason to start or resume a war? Bear in mind that millions of innocent people may die, almost certainly will die, if war is started or resumed.”
I didn’t hesitate. “Yes sir! More than enough reason.”
” ‘More than enough.’ Very well, is one prisoner, unreleased by the enemy, enough reason to start or resume a war? Wouldn’t it be criminal to endanger a country — two countries in fact — to save one man? Especially as he may not deserve it? Or may die in the meantime? Thousands of people die every day in accidents. . .so why hesitate over one man?”
“It doesn’t matter whether it is a thousand — or just one, sir. You fight.”
“Aha! The number of prisoners is irrelevant. Good. Now prove your answer. Some may claim that you have asserted, by analogy, that one potato is worth, no more, no less, as one thousand potatoes. No?”
“Men are not potatoes.”
People say that Terri at this point is a potato. I respond, “Are you sure?” Congress and the President asked that the judges take a new, fresh look at this case, and not rely on years old testimonies. People point to doctors who say she is in a persistent vegetative state and will never recover. I respond, “Are you sure?” Her family says she speaks, and at least one nurse has filed an affidavit saying that she speaks, so I ask again, “Are you sure?” I have outlined above the central question of who is harmed if she is allowed food and water and the case is reviewed by fresh eyes.
People sitting on death row, who have committed murder and have been judged worthy of death, are granted more care and attention than Terri. Terri is a unique individual, as we all are, and we should be hesitant to call for her death merely because she has become inconvenient to the husband who has moved on to live with Jodi Centonze, the backup Mrs. Schiavo.
As I posted this, I saw that the Drudge Report linked to a Knight Ridder article saying that Gov. Bush had dispatched law enforcement agents to reinsert Terri’s feeding tube, but they stopped when the police said they would enforce Judge Greer’s order and prevent them from seeing her. I have film noir images of a running gun battle between both sides of the law if they hadn’t backed down. This shows that the police officers who backed down do not agree with Johnny Rico. For them, one person is not enough.
Addendum (3/27/2005): On this Easter Sunday, many millions will gather in remembrance and celebration of One who was deemed by His government to be worthy of death. He died, and three days later returned to life. He was the Son of God, and on this Easter Sunday we remember the sacrifice He made and the glory of His resurrection. On this Easter day, there is another who has been deemed by her government to be worthy of death. Unless some miracle occurs, she will die; unlike Jesus of Nazareth, she will not return to life after three days. But as a Christian, I believe that she will be restored to a perfect body and a perfect mind in the final resurrection. This gives me the hope that even in cases of great tragedy, there will come a just day.
Her parents have withdrawn their additional appeals, perhaps with the understanding that the government will not come to their daughter’s aid. On this Easter Sunday, I believe the Schindlers have a better understanding today of what it was like for Mary to be at the foot of the cross and see her child suffer and die. They have done what they could; now it is time to wait and count the hours. At this point, Terri has gone 215 hours without food or water. She is not even allowed to have a fragment of Host or drop of wine as part of the Eucharist this holy day because that would violate the judge’s orders.
Addendum (3/28/2005): 235 hours without food and water. The end for Terri cannot be far off, but the end for the people involved is not. Michael wants to cremate Terri’s body, while her parents wants to give her a proper Roman Catholic burial. Michael will, in all likelihood, win. The subsequent cremation will accomplish two things: first, rendering the body impossible to examine; second, ignoring the wishes of his wife. Yep, Michael Schiavo, poster-boy for following the “wishes of his wife,” will now completely ignore the way Roman Catholics feel about cremation.
John Fund wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today comparing and contrasting the Elian Gonzalez case and the Terri Schiavo case. He ends with the following bit:
According to some reports, Gov. Jeb Bush considered seizing Mrs. Schiavo, à la Elian, and taking her to a hospital so she could be fed. But he did not do so. “I’ve consistently said that I can’t go beyond what my powers are, and I’m not going to do it,” the governor says. Janet Reno and the Clinton administration showed no such restraint when it came to Elian Gonzalez.
Addendum (3/28/2005): As Terri goes 246 hours without food or water, I heard an interesting suggestion from Jim Quinn. Since Article 3, Section 1 of the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to “ordain and establish” any courts other than the Supreme Court, Congress could pass a law that would dissolve the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and show the judges the door. They could then turn around and institute it again a bit later and allow President Bush to select new judges. This is not a punishment because the 11th Circuit Court didn’t rule as the Congress wished because the Congress didn’t tell the Court how to rule. The 11th Circuit Court should be removed because the Congress and President crafted a law telling the Court to review this case de novo, and they refused. Because they gave the judicial middle finger to the President, Congress, and, by extension, the public for having voted in Congress and the President as their representatives. For these reasons the Congress should provide part of the checks and balances of the Constitution to reign in judges who have grown arrogant and self-important.
Cox and Forkum has drawn up a cartoon about the way people are divided over the Terri Schiavo situation. Too bad they didn’t mention that many of the left side of the political spectrum are also divided about this case.
Addendum (3/29/2005): As Terri goes 263 hours without food or water, I did a bit of reading on Michelle Malkin’s site. Two things she linked to jumped out at me. First was a comment from the Blue State Conservative:
Can someone please tell me why Terri Schiavo needs morphine if starvation and dehydration is a euphoric and painless way to die?
Michael told Larry King and others that this is a happy-happy joy-joy way to die. He also said that this was Terri’s wish to die. Since the first is evidently not true because of the use of morphine, how does that affect the possible truthfulness of the second claim?
And speaking of second, the second article that caught my eye was written by Mark Steyn. Here are two parts that I see worth repeating here.
That’s how I feel about the Terri Schiavo case. I’m neither a Floridian nor a lawyer, and, for all I know, it may be legal under Florida law for the state to order her to be starved to death. But it is still wrong.
Michael Schiavo took a vow to be faithful in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do them part. He’s forsaken his wife and been unfaithful to her: She is, de facto, his ex-wife, yet, de jure, he appears to have the right to order her execution. This is preposterous. Suppose his current common-law partner were to fall victim to a disabling accident. Would he also be able to have her terminated? Can he exercise his spousal rights polygamously? The legal deference to Mr. Schiavo’s position, to his rights overriding her parents’, is at odds with reality.
Addendum (3/30/2005): Terri passes 284 hours without food or water, and some new players jump into the fray. Captain Ed points out that two well-known right-wing Christian types have joined the discussion on the side of Terri Schiavo. These two are Jesse Jackson and Nat Hentoff. In case you didn’t catch the tongue-in-cheek comment of “right-wing” above, neither of these two are such. Read the full article on Captain’s Quarters.
The second piece of news I feel has come too late. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to “consider a petition for a new hearing” about reconnecting Terri’s feeding tube. If her tube were to be reconnected right now, I’m not sure how much good it would do. At over 12 days without food and water, I would guess much of her body’s functions have shut down. I don’t see Terri’s feeding tube being put back any time soon if the 11th Circuit is just in the midst of considering the petition. I’m guessing that this would be a de novo look at the case, but too late to actually save her.
Addendum (3/30/2005): The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the appeal of Terri’s parents. And the clock still ticks for Terri, now at 292 hours without food or water.
The whole thing is just absolutely terrible and frightening. But at least Terri will not have lived in vain. I have just gotten a very good power of attorney for health care – and would not have had it if it were not for this terrible thing.
Richard quotes the writing of a figure in the news and asks if you can name the author. Go visit Good Richard’s Almanac and see if you can figure out who wrote it.
Addendum (3/31/2005): The Associated Press has announced that Terri Schiavo has died. Her husband has had his wish, and she was starved and dehydrated to death. We can’t do that to a dog in the U.S., but we can do it to a human being if the courts are behind it.
Addendum (3/31/2005): By my calculations Terri spent 311 hours slowly starving and dehydrating to death. I am truly saddened over her death, but I’ve been expecting this for a few days now. At this point she is beyond suffering, and I can see her being gently enfolded in the loving arms of her Heavenly Father as she slipped past the veil of this mortal existence and He welcomed her home. I add my small voice to the countless others who are asking for prayers and heartfelt words of comfort for those who are suffering with Terri’s passing, particularly her family.
I find it very interesting that Terri’s death has been bumped from the top news item on the Drudge Report for flash news that Pope John Paul II has been given the last rites. While this doesn’t mean that the Pope is on his death bed, since it is often given to Catholics who are seriously ill, his failing health has been a concern for the millions of Roman Catholic people around the globe. On the one hand, we have a Catholic woman who had her feeding tube taken away from her so she would die, and on the other, we have a Catholic man who has recently been fitted with a feeding tube to provide him with nourishment so he could live. The woman died at 41, not because her body was failing her, but because her body was forced to fail. If the man dies soon at 84, it will be because his body has grown too frail. On one hand the courts failed the woman, and on the other hand an octogenarian body will fail the man. Terri died because the court ruled that she should. The Pope will die when God says he should.
Addendum (4/2/2005): The Vatican has announced that Pope John Paul II has died this Saturday at the age of 84. I am not Catholic, but I have been following the Pontif’s failing health these last few weeks, and I am saddened at his passing. The annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started this morning. And I listened as President Gordon B. Hinckley, president and prophet of the Church, opened by stating the Church’s regret at the impending passing of the Holy Father who had done so much good in the world and was such a champion for Christianity. Terri died when her body failed her because life-sustaining food and water were denied to her, and she literally wasted away. The Pontif died when his body failed him because it was worn out after 84 years of labor, and medical treatment couldn’t reverse the effects of that labor.
On Friday one of my coworkers wondered out loud why the Pope couldn’t just retire. Why was it necessary for this old man to keep working as the Pope until he died? I explained that there is a very long tradition of the leader of the church working until his death. As I explained to my coworker, this Christian tradition goes back to Jesus Christ, who labored to bring souls to God up to His death, and then beyond. In my own Mormon faith, President Hinckley will serve as the leader and prophet until he is finally released at his death.
I will leave Terisa Marie Schindler Schiavo alone now. Further updating will come only if warranted, but I will close with the a link to something Orson Scott Card wrote on March 20th, while Terri was still alive. “Whose Life Is Worth Living?” is well worth the time to read it.
Addendum (6/22/2005): So the autopsy was completed and announced. A coworker remarked about how Terri’s brain was half its normal size. I responded that the brain is 75% water, and Terri died from dehydration. So is it any wonder that Terri’s brain was not normal size after she had gone almost two weeks with no food or water?