More Thoughts on the Schiavo Case

(James already posted on this topic. My comment to his post has grown into a post in itself.)

It’s unfortunate that this issue has become politicized, as there seems to be no political or legal solution to the dilemma. It comes down to the opinions of a few judges in resolving an improbable dispute between family members. The judges might have decided differently, the interests of the contending family members might (in a different family) be reversed, etc. And it’s easy to foresee future problems as a result of Congressional involvement.

The dilemma is irresolvable as Ms. Schiavo’s wishes cannot be known. It would have been better if she had made a living will when she could, but since she didn’t, someone else gets to decide whether to believe her husband or her parents. I’m inclined to believe the parents — that is, I’m inclined to think that she should be allowed to live, absent proof that she wants to die.

The thing that I don’t understand is why this is being called a “right to die” case. That’s not what it is. Ms. Schiavo is helpless but very much alive. There is controversy about her thinking ability, but it’s not as though she were being kept alive via heroic measures. (This fact appears to be a problem for her husband.)

The question, rather, is whether she should be killed by starvation because or her debilitated condition, and without our knowing what she would have wanted. If she awakened one day and announced that she wished to die, and if she persisted with that wish over a reasonable period, then I would accept that she should be accommodated (though by a method more gentle than starvation, which strikes me as terribly cruel). I might also accept her premature death if she had made a living will that declared her wish to die if she became incapacitated — though I would be hesitant due to the possibility that she had changed her mind in the meantime. But to kill her without a strong indication of her wishes, and over her parents’ and siblings’ vehement objections, strikes me as presumptuous and reckless. I don’t think anyone has moral standing to do it.

15 thoughts on “More Thoughts on the Schiavo Case”

  1. If we can make a user interface for Stephen Hawking, and if we can get dolphins to tap out messages on an underwater “keyboard”, can’t our techie wizards dream up some devise that will enable Terri to communicate her real wishes?

    I watched her eyes following a balloon in some news footage. Can’t we enable her to use eye movement to communicate with us?

    Crimeny! We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars listening to outer space. Let’s spend the money to ask Terri the question all of us are so darn interested in knowing the answer to.

    Just a suggestion.

  2. Steve,

    We can’t. There isn’t enough time. She might not be able to communicate even if we built such an interface: she might really be in a vegetative state. No one can know. It’s a tragedy and there’s no way around it.

  3. Fresh Bilge has a couple of good posts on the subject.

    What do Terry Schindler Schiavo and the Pope have in common, besides their religion? Both require assistance to live. But TSS may not require as much assistance as her husband has claimed, according to a former nurse in the hospice where Terry has long resided. She says Terry can eat, and that the feeding tube may have been unnecesary. According to multiple sources, Michael Schiavo refused to allow rehabilitation that might have enabled Terry to become more independent. Why? I have not followed this case in the past, but the more I learn about it now, the more I feel that something monstrous lurks in it.

  4. In baseball, if the ball and the runner arrive at the base at the same time in a force situation, the tie goes to the runner. In life, life should be awarded the base in the event of a tie.

    Terri has not had an MRI or other diagnostic tests that would confirm or rule out the PVS diagnosis so urgently sought by Michael Schiavo. There is a set of tests that are considered the gold standard for the diagnosis, but they have not been performed. The guardian ad litem was not given much of a hearing by this judge. For the love of God, why are they not doing their utmost to make sure they are not making a hideous mistake? There is a question of fact here, a life or death decision, that has not been well considered. Is she dead or alive? So far, there is only a presumption that she is essentially dead. The guilty require proof. Why are the innocent condemned on a presumtion?

    I don’t know what the right answer is, not having enough information. Neither do I believe the court has gathered enough information, or considered it dispassionately, to make that decision.

  5. Excellent analysis Jonathan.

    One more note. I am very reluctant to see the federal courts get involved in this. They have done far more harm than good and even if, as I believe Florida is wrong, the Federal courts should stay away.

  6. I thought this type of case was solved long ago?
    A law Tn texas, signed by our current president expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient’s family’s wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law.

    Fighting for life!!!

  7. Another cheap partisan shot from our old friend Peter, who no doubt will disappear until the next opportunity for drive-by commenting presents itself.

    Or perhaps Peter will share with us his opinion about what should be done with Ms. Schiavo.

  8. Last night on Dennis Miller a Democratic Congresswoman from California was on the panel (a long with Mickey Kaus and Jay Nordlinger). Regarding Schiavo, she stated she was not conflicted in the least about the matter as the legal procedures provided all necessary due process rights. She recited the mantra that 29 judges and myriad doctors who have pored over the case for 10 years are good enough for her.

    What really struck me is her admitted lack of moral conflict over the matter. Bless her for her honesty. It is the opposite of when Kerry and Company say they support the troops.

    Her comment strikes home as the biggest flaw of the vocal facet of the Democratic Party-the inability to relate to the average person. Like what happens to every player in the Apprentice who gets fired each week. Shut the hell up! Hilary is learning and watch how far she goes in 2008. The average person is saddened by the killing of Schiavo whatever their “belief” in states rights, marital prerogative, judicial sovereignty or whatever the latest rationale.

    When a politician does not have the good sense to speak reverently of the soon-to-be-dead in a case like this, they will lose the electorate.

  9. Isn’t it ironic that the same folks supporting the Courts finding of Schiavo’s presumed wishes, are the same folks that denied these same Courts the opportunity to discover the wishes of Elian Gonzalez’s mother.

  10. Fritz, some of the people who argue against intervening (against the court) to aid Ms. Schiavo are pointing out that Republicans objected to Clinton’s police raid to snatch Elian Gonzales. Maybe they have a point about hypocrisy re procedure. What matters more to me in this comparison is that Elian’s mother’s intent was not difficult to infer from the fact that she risked her life to take him to the USA, whereas Ms. Schiavo’s intent is unknowable. That is the crucial distinction. Whatever the legal justification for letting her die, I don’t think there can be a moral one, because no one can have the knowledge of her intent that would allow him to make such a decision according to her wishes.

    The great fiction here is that the people who are killing her are acting as her agent rather than pursuing their own agendas.

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