A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Some food for thought on Terri

A number of comments on the Terri Schiavo thread but I think there are some flaws and/or other perspectives that need to be highlighted. Which is not to say good points have not been made. I do agree with Troy that way too much money has been spent on this case, though most of my objection is to the court costs-- I'm okay with the health costs given the additional information I've dug up in the last day or so (see below). I also agree with Temporary Costello that it is shameful that so-called conservative, small government Republicans have totally tossed away any states' rights credentials they might have laid claim to previously. And I agree with Jack that folks are too afraid of death these days, and I think part of that can be laid on the cynicism that seems to permeate much of faith these days.


I take issue with some of the following commentary:

"...a brain-damaged woman who cannot respond to any stimulus..."
"Secondly, the brain damage in this case is not really related to the rabies case. It is not really just significant or partial damage. It is TOTAL. the poor woman's brain has atrophied and been replaced by spinal fluid. It's like ketchup soup. there's nothing there to recover. It's not just that a miracle, or something that the doctors don't expect, might occur, it's that it can't. It's like having the engine removed from your car and expectiing a new battery to start it up on a cold morning."
I would be okay with both of these comments if Terri Schiavo was, in fact, brain dead. But I remain unconvinced that she is. Why? Well, check out this affidavit from a Florida doctor (no, he's not a quack) and then tell me you're absolutely certain that Terri has no chance of recovery. Some highlights from Dr. Cheshire's affadavit (based on direct observations of Terri):

"There remain, in fact, huge uncertainties in regard to Terri's true neurological status....New facts have come to light in the last few years that should be weighed in the neurological assessment of Terri Schiavo."

"…Terri Schiavo demonstrates behaviors in a variety of cognitive domains that call into question the previous neurological diagnosis of persistent vegetative state. Specifically, she has demonstrated behaviors that are context-specific, sustained, and indicative of cerebral cortical processing that, upon careful neurological consideration, would not be expected in a persistent vegetative state.

"Based on this evidence, I believe that, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, there is a greater likelihood that Terri is in a minimally conscious state than a persistent vegetative state. This distinction makes an enormous difference in making ethical decisions on Terri’s behalf. If Terri is sufficiently aware of her surroundings that she can feel pleasure and suffer, if she is capable of understanding to some degree how she is being treated, then in my judgment it would be wrong to bring about her death by withdrawing food and water…."

So, maybe Terri IS capable of responding to stimuli. Maybe that engine isn't missing after all, and maybe there's a bit more to that cortex than ketchup soup. Maybe, to stretch an analogy to perhaps absurd lengths, the engine is missing two cylinders and will never be able to produce more than 1/4 its previous horsepower, but is still capable of operation if someone puts a little time into trying. No one has tried to improve Terri's cognition or condition because Michael Schiavo doesn't want them to, for whatever reason. Would it be so wrong to try some new therapeutic techniques on Terri to see if she can improve? All the assumptions that she can't are based on the fact that she hasn't improved-- but no one is giving her the chance. It's rather like expecting a one year old to know how to walk when we never allow her to crawl.

What would be the harm, after all of this time, after all of this debate, in trying for a while to see if she can improve? If she doesn't, then the diagnosis of PVS (persistent vegetative state) is almost certainly correct and the complexion of the debate changes greatly. If she does, then the diagnosis was wrong, and the complexion of the debate changes greatly.

So, I reiterate my early position-- the best and the right thing to do is to put the tube back in and then try to determine if the diagnosis of PVS is right. Let's err on the side of life. But I also stand by my conclusion that the best and right thing to do is Michael Schiavo's responsibility. This makes me very sad, because I know that he will not do the right thing, whatever his motivation, and I can't imagine being Terri's parents or the agony they must be enduring. But it is not the government's job to attempt to right every perceived injustice. I don't want the government to be legislating people's lives in this manner, no matter how much I agree with their motivations in this particular case.

It is time for Jeb Bush, the Florida and federal legislature and all of those that feel for and love Terri to let it go. I wish that weren't the case, but it is.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

"Or the one."

It is time to let it go. It is time to say goodbye.


Nick, you mention that maybe she's running on 1/4 horsepower and that's worth something. It might be worth something to the parents, but is it worth something to Terri. I recently had a grandmother die who had Alzheimer’s for several years. The last time I saw her (over 2.5 years ago), she didn't even recognize my mother. I hear lots of people say that they don't want to live like that, but I don't hear anyone doing anything about it. Currently in this country, you cannot say that you don't want to live once you get to that point. I personally think that is a problem. I hate to bring up money again, but my grandmother was in a nursing home for over 4 years. I can't imagine how much that cost, but I do know that I don't want to have to burden my children with that cost. (And even if they don't pay for it directly, they will pay in the end.)
And back to Terri. If she really didn't want to live with a tube, which her husband and friends said, I doubt if she would want to live on 1/4 horsepower either.
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