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March 23, 2005
The Wounded

On its surface, the Terri Schiavo battle is a tangle of conflicting histories, medical opinions, legal opinions, religious opinions. Beneath the surface, it is the latest skirmish between those who want to stop our practice of terminating inconvenient life, and those who want to sustain the right to do so. It is also a tribal conflict, and some are engaged not because they care deeply about the outcome, but because they see an opportunity to spew vitriol at the other tribe.

I'm not a neurologist, I don't know her husband. I can't claim any legal expertise that would allow me to discern whether this is a bad case that could make bad law, as Molly Ivins writes (which presumably means someone else wrote it first). I don't think I'm "incapable of making moral distinctions," as Ivins paints some opposed to the slow starvation of Terri Schiavo. It's a good line, to be sure, especially funny coming from a plagiarizing hack who would denounce the Almighty himself if she thought it would help her tribe at the polls. Perhaps her accusation is true of some on the Hysterical Right, but I don't think it's true of me, or many others who believe that what's happening in Florida is a shame and a tragedy.

The shame stems from the fact that Michael Schiavo betrayed his wife years ago. That's an ugly truth, and I don't say it with self-righteousness, because many men far better than me have fallen away from their wives, under far less stressful conditions. But that truth remains, and it is relevant, because the entire case for starving Terri Schiavo hinges on the post-abandonment remembrance by this man that his wife -- the same woman on whose behalf he sued to secure money for long-term care -- actually doesn't care to live in such a state after all. The heady willingness of many on the Left to embrace this contention unquestioned, simply because it serves their end of thwarting nefarious pro-life forces, redounds to their shame.

I'm struck by how cavalierly we throw about this notion that death is so easily chosen. Perhaps it's an easy choice in abstract, and so it becomes simple to project such a choice onto others. I suspect that many of us who bravely declare the many conditions under which we'd rather be put out of our misery, however, would in fact cling more desperately to life than we realize.

The unshakeable fact is that we'll all get to find out for ourselves one day, no? If you were to be Terri Schiavo's place, on which side would you like the world to err?

The tragedy is that Terri's parents simply want their daughter back from the man who promised to care for her, but who backed away from his promise. It appears that they can't have her.

It must be horrible, it must be maddening, and everyone who approaches this debate should keep that fact fixed firmly in his mind. Neither this, nor any case of euthanasia, nor any abortion, is directly about any of us onlookers. It is first about the life that is deliberately extinguished, and second about the wounded who are left behind. It is only about us in the indirect sense, insofar as our action -- or more likely inaction -- contributes to the state in which we find ourselves.

There will be many tears when Terri Schiavo breathes her last. Some will be genuine, some will be fake, some will be hysterically generated by people who have overly invested their emotions in someone else's tragedy. Then most of us will move on. You and I will go back to our lives, Michael Schiavo will go back to his new woman and kids, his attorneys back to their other clients. But Bob and Mary Schindler will be left without a daughter, and they will know that it might have been different.

Posted by Woodlief on March 23, 2005 at 08:13 AM


Thank you for this post. Having had to make this type of decision for both of my parents, and, as a healthcare professional attempting to give some comfort to the families of my patients, I appreciate your thoughtfulness to this issue. It is sooo easy for people to prattle on about what they would do, or what they would want. The horrible truth is, you never know what you would do or what you would want until it hits you in the face.

Posted by: Llana at March 23, 2005 9:42 AM

I don't know Llana, it seems he's pretty much on the parent's side. There's not much thoughtfulness in my mind other than "Look how shameful the husband is, not caring about his wife" when said husband proved that she wouldn't have wanted this, and every single court (all the way up to the Supreme Court who wouldn't even hear it) has held this as fact and erred on his side.

Congress has absolutely no business interfering in court business. Are you really approving this behavior?

Me? There is -no way- we can even begin to think or get a grasp on the situation. This is a very private matter that for some terrible reason the Oh-So-Righteous Republicans could get on their high horse and try to stop it. Then the case wasn't even heard because the long-standing ruling was right. Like it or not, these are the laws by which we've governed ourselves for decades.

I agree it's a terribly sad thing. But to say the husband is acting shameful, well, that's just being judgemental. Without being in his shoes, I don't see anyone (except your chosen deity and Judge Greer who originally presided over this case) having that right.

Posted by: Evan Erwin at March 23, 2005 12:08 PM

Good stuff Tony. Well written and well reasoned, especially the part about Terri's parents. I've an empty setting at family gatherings and know that awful pain.

I am tempted to tell brother Evan to go read Article Three of the U.S. Constitution, but then that might be flippant. No branch should have supremecy, each has a check on the other, and the Bench is no exception just because we like the outcomes so far. Taht worm will turn, and you;ll be glad for a congress willing to intervene.

My analysis on The American Thinker parallels Tony's, for what its worth.

Tim McNabb
The Schiavo case and moral inquiry

Posted by: Tim McNabb at March 23, 2005 12:38 PM

Evan should be careful about pointing the finger about people being "judgemental" (sic) when he does the exact same thing (re-read his post -- he has no problem passing judgement on those who disagree with him). Evan should also check his facts. Michael Schiavo has *not* "proven" that she (Terri) would have wanted her feeding tube removed.

"Congress has absolutely no business interfering in court business"?! Last time I checked, one of the founding principles of our government is that of "checks and balances." They have more than "business" doing so -- they have a *duty* to keep in check a runaway judicial system.

Evan, if Michael was beating his wife "in the privacy of his own home" would it still be a "very private matter"? This is just leftist cliche used to dismiss those on the opposing side without discussing facts or principles. It is the same weak argument used in the abortion debate, with equally ineffective results.

Finally, Evan, there is nothing wrong with being judgmental. You did it in your own post. If it is judgmental to say that Michael did the wrong thing by withholding medical treatment from his wife, entering into a common-law marriage with another woman (while still married to Terri), and denying his wife's parents even the unrestricted ability to see their daughter, then it is judgmental for you to say we do the wrong thing by making the assertion.

There is no morally neutral ground here, and you err when you assert you stand on it while pointing the finger at those that take a stand and don't hide.

Posted by: Paul at March 23, 2005 12:59 PM

Nice talking points, Evan, but I've already seen the script several times.

The post in question actually is only on the "parents' side" in terms of sympathy and agreeing that the husband has betrayed his wife and his own word, not necessarily in saying that the outcome should be changed from a legal perspective - go read it for the first time, since you only saw what you wanted before. He made absolutely no mention at all of Congress, for instance, or whether their actions were correct or not.

As to the actual case itself, you are completely wrong that Michael has "proved" that Terry didn't want to live like this. He SAID she didn't, and that's it. The court took his word for it over the word of many other people who found that to be at direct odds with many other things she's said, including Michael himself, who "conveniently" remembered her wishes *8 years* after the accident... but very shortly after he was given a large sum of money on her behalf. Possible? Yes. Reason to doubt his veracity? YES.

Also, no other court has ruled on whether he "proved" that or not - or whterh or not she is PVS. All the other court rulings took Judge Greer's "finding of facts" as actual fact and reviewed only procedural issues. In short, the whole case hinges on the findings of Judge Greer and none other. You were apparently correct to put Judge Greer and the Almighty in the same position.

Medically speaking, Judge Greer's "finding of fact", even if it is later proven to be accurate, is currently medically unsupportable. No one has performed a full medical determination on Terry regarding PVS, which involved quite a bit more than one CAT scan and 45 minutes in the room with her. NO ONE has done that, therefore, from a legal and medical perspective, WE DON'T KNOW if she is PVS or not. I can therefore state that Judge Greer's ruling is completely unsupportable and wrong... even if the conclusion is LATER found to be correct, he made that conclusion without supporting evidence.

Summary: Is she PVS? NO ONE KNOWS. How can we let her die until we know?

PS - We don't know because Michael won't let anyone perform the full evaluation. Make of that what you will.

PPS - Paul is apparently all over this, too, posting while I was writing. I mostly agree (though there is room on both sides in the argument whether Congress should have gotten involved).

Posted by: Deoxy at March 23, 2005 1:02 PM

One final note, brought up by Greg Koukl (http://www.str.org) -- those who claim that when people (themselves or others) are euthanized, it is in order to "put (them) out of (their) misery", are essentially asserting a metaphysical knowledge of the afterlife. I'll not presume here to espouse what happens to these people after they die, but why do those in favor of death assume they are not sending the soon-to-be-deceased to a place and state worse than where they are currently?

Posted by: Paul at March 23, 2005 1:08 PM

Wowza, thanks for the comments guys. At least this is civil, I've seen such arguments melt into anger and insults long before this point.

Anyway, yes I agree on having checks and balances, but the way in which this case has been sensationalized and the Moral Right has taken a hold of it as an issue to be proud of...it just seems like an issue we should let the family and the courts decide. And -not- the court of public opinion.

I also mentioned Congress because it was in reference to the article he linked to.

"As to the actual case itself, you are completely wrong that Michael has "proved" that Terry didn't want to live like this. He SAID she didn't, and that's it."

Well, the courts believed it. The law is behind him. The decision is made. Decision comes from a Latin word meaning "to cut off". You may be upset with that, but it is a decision everyone is going to have to live or die with, as it were.

Woohoo, this is fun :)

Posted by: Evan Erwin at March 23, 2005 1:22 PM

Paul: two absolutely outstanding comments.

Evan: Is the law ever wrong? The law was wrong on slavery, and fugitive slaves, and segregation. If the law has spoken, should we all lie down and die, so to speak? I don't think so! The law is wrong this time, too.

Read Wittenberg Gate today on the topic of "When the law is wrong". http://dory.typepad.com/wittenberg_gate/2005/03/when_the_law_is.html (not my blog, so no shamless self-promotion here!)

Posted by: M.E. at March 23, 2005 2:54 PM

Oops, "shameless". Sorry. There's no sham either, for that matter, but I did mean "shameless".

Posted by: M. E. at March 23, 2005 2:55 PM

I think I will shed more tears for another female from Florida, the girl who was kidnapped-abused-murdered, than for Ms. Schiavo (though hers is a sad situation as well). Thank God they seem to have the ______ who did it. Decorum prevents me from filling in the blank.

I won't even attempt an understanding of how an evil like that can be realized. I also can't understand how Michael Shiavo would allow Terri to die. Is he afraid of some secret that she may know, or is he just worried about losing the pot of gold? Let her go, let her parents take care of her, and get on with the other life you started. How can someone be that greedy?

Posted by: MarcV at March 23, 2005 3:48 PM

The girl who was raped and murdered is absolutely horrible. But there is nothing we can do but mourn her. In regards to Terri we can do something, we can be not silent. The legal system in this country has given her a death sentence on little or no evidence. Michael's word is questionable to begin with and even the "fact" that she is PVS is more than questionable. Her very nurses have testified to actions and behaviours that disqualify the diagnosis. A diagnoses from a doctor that advocates starving Alzheimer's patients when they become unable to feed themselves. A diagnosis made in 45 minutes when the AMA states it takes months to make the diagnosis. The issue at hand is one of life and life is the most important thing we have.

Right now the judiciary is running rampant and running this country in a way that the founding fathers never intended. There are supposed to be checks and balances but these allmighty judges are ignoring them outright.

Evan your comments show an ignorance that is common amongst the population of this country. I do not mean to be insulting at all, far from it. It is either ignorance or it is a willful ignoring of the facts. The left commonly touts the law being wrong and campaigns to change it but when it is a situation like this then they scream about the law being right and how we should all abide by the law. Major instances of the law being wrong in this country have been pointed out already and the flaws in your arguments shown clearly.

Roe V Wade is wrong and we murder babies wholesale every day but the law has spoken, am I supposed to sit down and take it? No I am not, nor will I ever. The law has spoken in this case and the law is wrong. This only means we must change the law not that we just have to live with it. I am willing to bet that there are things that you wouldn't just live with. Even if Terri dies we can elect officials who will write laws to insure that things like this never happen again. The battle doesn't end with Terri, she is just the beginning and as long as she is alive there is hope for her. This is a battle that will not be over when she passes and this is not something we all just have to live.

Posted by: flesh99 at March 23, 2005 4:30 PM

Ah, there's the Roe v Wade comment I was waiting on. I actually had mentioned it in my comment and deleted it. These cases have virtually nothing in common (but I'm sure I'll get the comparisons anyway). Your Body Is A Temple that should be respected is a Christian ideal. Roe v. Wade is pro-woman, pro-choice and let's the person who will be responsible for that human make the decision to kill a lump of developing cells (baby? eh. Late term abortion? Debatable).

Murder Babies Wholesale. That sounds like a great name for a band.

Yes, I don't take all of this too seriously. This is just another rally-around-the-moral-majority issue that I find fascinating.

Posted by: Evan Erwin at March 23, 2005 5:38 PM

In our society for better or worse marriage has, well like our currency, lost value. However, a parent is always the parent to the child. The spouse in this case has no vested interest in denying the parents the privilege of caring for their daughter.

There is no living will. This case is not just bad law it is criminal. Where do we stop? In the not too recent past it would have been near impossible to remove nourishment from a patient in Mrs. Shiavo's condition without a living will. Do we no long require living wills? In the future can conversational musings (I think this was once called hearsay) lead to the virtual murder of one's spouse.

I agree with Tony this is tribal; I am coming to the opinion that there are those who favor the death of this woman just so that some 'pro-life' hacks can take it on the chin. I am not for or against the right for an individual in Mrs. Shiavo's condition being euthanized; I am passionately against the killing of an individual who has not legally executed a desire to with hold vital nourishment against the wishes of her parents.

I have the ultimate sympathy for Mrs. Shiavo's parents. How, if you have children, can you be against them in this case? Is it because you know more/better than they? Do you? How would you like for me to know more/better than you regarding decisions about your children? I can tell you that I wouldn’t trust anyone make judgments for my children.

To all to disagree with my argument, notice, I have not made personal attacks against Mr. Shiavo. I have not made moral judgments about him. I am yet hear any arguments about this case on the merits. They all begin about how they would feel if they were Mrs. Shiavo. Let’s hear some about how they would feel if they were her parents.

Posted by: Gray at March 23, 2005 7:02 PM

EVan I only brought up Roe v. Wade because it is an example of bad law. There is a very alive woman dying right now and the judges in this country are allowing it to happen. This is morally bereft and sickening to be frank. There is no comparison at all between RvW and this case save the fact that both are simply bad law. You say this is something everyone is going to have to live with but would you be willing to lie down and take it if Roe v. Wade was overturned?

This is not about the rule of law at all, any rule of law that allows for the slow and painful starvation of anyone as helpless as Terri is wrong and needs to be changed. We don't have to live with it in this country, we thankfully have recourse to make sure that bad law is changed. I am impressed with Gov. Bush right now and his fight to keep Terri alive. I pray the new evidence and allegations makes Greer reconsider. Terri likely doesn't have much time left and the facts need to be brought out. A proper diagnosis will take months and that's months longer that Terri will live and hopefully in that time she will get some of the therapy her husband has denied her thus far and show improvement. All of this is being decided without enough evidence or examination, it's not only bad law but bad practice from judges. There is a life at stake here and people seem to be ignoring that left and right. At least Tony is concentrating on Terri here and what she and her family are going through.

Posted by: flesh99 at March 23, 2005 8:45 PM

I agree with your position Tony...Tonight our Pastor liked this as a test from God. He spoke about God's judgement that we as a nation deserve and how if it did not fall on us He would have to apologize to the nations before us that have felt his condemnation and wrath due to the way they chose to act after experiencing his grace and mercy. I realize this is a shorthand, but overall the Spirit within me testifies that this situation is and has been handled wrong from the beginning.

Posted by: Rob at March 23, 2005 10:23 PM

Hello Gray,
Thank you for explaining what I was trying to say.
In other words, folks,......"what he said"

Posted by: Llana at March 23, 2005 11:40 PM

Though it seems a bit out-of-place here, I can't let the comments just slide. Here's the short version (I'm low on time):

Calling RvW "pro-woman" is like calling slavery "pro-capitalism." In a sense, it's correct, but only if you mean it gives women the power to decide when the thing growing inside her is a baby and when it is "just a lump of cells" (why does *what* it is change based on the "whim" of another person?).

For the record, Evan, you are also "just a lump of cells." Are you more valuable because you have more cells? You probably have more cells than a two-year-old. Are you more valuable than her? Is she expendible?

"Your Body Is A Temple that should be respected is a Christian ideal." I'm not sure what your point is. This seems to go against the pro-abortion point of view, but perhaps I need a second cup of coffee. :)

Finally, I don't know how anyone could miss the obvious connection between the Schiavo case and the abortion issue. A group of people has decided what characteristics make another human life "not worth living" and/or "expendible." It's not really that surprising or new. It's the mindset that allowed our country to "justify" the dehumanization of slaves, it's what has allowed other countries (Iraq, (Nazi) Germany, others) to engage in the elimination of the handicapped and the politically "inconvenient," as well as outright genocide. Is this a path we really want to travel again?

Evan, I think these issues warrant more than the casual thought you are giving them. Spend some time really thinking about them. I do appreciate your willingness to post here when you have such opposition, and I hope you don't feel too picked-on.

Posted by: Paul at March 24, 2005 11:51 AM

One quick p.s. for Rob:

God's record is perfect and He will exercise judgement (and, thankfully, mercy) on our nation perfectly. He would not, however, "owe" anyone (or any nation) an apology if He exercises mercy where judgement is deserved. It is His prerogative to dispense mercy, and those nations that received His judgement were duly condemned for their own actions and how they violated God's law, not how they stand up to the moral grading curve of history.

Posted by: Paul at March 24, 2005 11:57 AM

Let's say I have a 'living' will, a trust, a DNR and all the other paperwork I need to prove without a shadow of a doubt that I wish to be dead if I were found to be in need of medical help and assistance to live, etc.

Now let's pretend I attempt, due to my increasing depression with all of these worldly matters, to commit suiside, but I bungle the job. I don't succeed, I am just slowly bleeding out. My mom and Dad find me, they call my hubsband, and 911. All gather around and with paperwork in hand - do they all let me slowly bleed, or do they allow me to die? Suiside is against the law, and they -against my wishes and will and all my paperwork- bring me back and force medical aide, and a 24 hour lock up to make sure I am evaluated and can be trusted not to try it again.

Where are we going? I think Ms. Schiavo is gone, but that's my opinion. On the other hand, my cat was really sick and old last year. Not much wrong just beginning to age and feeling pain more and more. By law, I am not allowed to starve my kitty cat to death, nor may I be allowed to deprive her of water. I would be placed in jailed and heavily fined if my cats were over crowded or in poor living conditions.
Ms. Schiavo is human being. I think she deserves to live. If the courts decide she needs to die, at least they should put her out of her misery as fast as they do animals, or even death row inmates. Why make her death lingering?

Posted by: yellow duck at March 26, 2005 6:51 PM

When Terri S. got sick, a living will was needed to prevent heroic measures from prolonging life. Prolonging life was the default position. Judge Greer has decided that a living will is needed to prevent pulling the plug and bringing death. Death is now the default.

Anyone remember the Florida legislature voting on that?

Posted by: Anonymous at March 29, 2005 8:12 AM

I've been trying to find a good way to describe what I'm feeling about this event, and you've done it for me.

I was in an argument about this, and I asked the other guy "what would anyone have to lose by letting every doctor try and help her before we kill her? After all, according to you, she isn't even aware, so who would suffer"?

He refused to answer me, but instead pointed hout that I was being hypocritical.

I haven't talked to that person since, and I don't plan to again.

Posted by: Dan Meyers at March 29, 2005 10:52 AM

Terri's death is a failure on many levels. Just as a provocation, I firmly believe anyone who believes Michael Sciavo is necessarily telling the truth, has just lost all license for this century to say a politician has lied.

That said, as a lawyer, I have to point out that determination of facts is often on a very tenuous basis, early in the process, and once they are reified, it is, and should be, very difficult to re-open them. Second-guessing, there were probably times before the danger became imminent that the parents had a window to seek change, and let it pass because no one like lawyers' fees, court proceedings, family fights.

The problem was a guardian with a conflict of interest, who was also the only source of information about "Terri's wishes." If my husband were the custodian of a settlement, he would probably be my guardian as well as testify about my wishes. I might have (not that Terri's were) hysterical parents who should be disregarded.

The law is and must be a system. Case-by-case is a nightmare, might be justified once, down the road will be leveraged by almost everyone. If a lawyer has another avenue to investigate, s/he may well do so.

The problems as I see them are with guardian laws and oversight, and with the horrible discretion about letting people die without maximizing comfort and care and love. Thou shalt not remove food and water, they're not extraordinary, you could kill me, a hale and productive human, by putting them just out of reach.

I don't want to live that way!

Rest in peace, Terri, and your legacy may save many of us your fate. Thank you.

Posted by: dilys at April 1, 2005 10:32 AM

One ridiculous Talking Point that I see repeated here is the heart wrenching "Just give her to her parents and they'll take care of her" argument.

THEY GAVE HER AWAY. At one point Michael Schiavo and TERRI'S PUBLICITY MAD PARENTS were taking care of her at home. They all decided that she was too much work and voluntarily put her in a nursing home.

Don't blame them at all for that--I imagine that 24/7 care for a person in Terri's shape would be relentless.

Also, I don't remember hearing them offer to pick up the enormous Medicaid bill that WE AS TAXPAYERS incurred in the case.

On the same issue I agree that Terri's malpractice care award should have never gone to legal fees.

Also, why is the "sanctity of marriage" so easily, easily violated when it goes against YOUR personal feelings on this issue?

Posted by: lorrie at April 17, 2005 6:36 AM