It's kind of risky, commenting on the Terri Schaivo case, when so many people have such strong feelings about it. One can hardly say a word about it without offending someone, and I'm in my usual wishy-washy state, wishing their were some kind of moderate compromise -- but there isn't.
I'm actually rather uncomfortable with the idea of removing a feeding tube from a patient; it's not quite like "pulling the plug" i.e. where the only thing keeping heartbeat and respiration going is a machine. In those circumstances, I don't have a problem with it. What is being done here is more of a denial of care; any helpless person will die if care-givers don't feed her. Now, it's clear that there just isn't much of Terri left; most of her brain is gone. But the same can be said to be true, for example, of late-stage Alzheimer's patients, and a myriad of other conditions affecting the brain. At what point is a person no longer worth caring for? What criteria should be used? No matter which one you use, there are other conditions that one could make the same argument about.
Although in such an important legal issue, it shouldn't matter, I don't particularly like or sympathize with any of the principals in this case, except for Terri herself. As in many family fights, everybody has gotten ugly. The Schindlers seem quite determined to ignore the reality of their daughter's condition -- something that I have a hard time being patient with. The idea that Terri could somehow miraculously become conscious again when most of her brain has turned to fluid is just ridiculous. Maybe it's the way I grew up, in particular dealing with my mother's illness; there's something in my emotional makeup that really gets me irritated when people pretend that things are going to be o.k., when they just aren't. As I write, there is a friend of the family claiming that Terri responded with a scream when asked if she wanted to live. With 70-90% of her brain gone, it is doubtful she would have even understood what was said to her, much less responded to it. People in this state do make various involuntary sounds and movements, including screams -- which are unrelated to external stimuli. According to the medical experts, Terri's parents are just desperately reading some sort of consciousness into these random reactions.
I'm absolutely horrified by their argument that her afterlife is in peril if she is involuntarily deprived of nutrition. The Catholic stance, as I understand it, is that they are forbidden to commit suicide by refusing food and water. That the Schindlers would use this argument indicates that they are either religious extremists, or they are just grasping at straws. A person who cannot make decisions about their own life cannot sin.
Michael Schiavo is even less sympathetic. I have to wonder why he has continued with this, when in his personal life has clearly moved on. I don't really blame him for that, under the circumstances, but I have to be suspicious as to why removing the feeding tube is so important to him. In spite of various rumors, money does not appear to be a motivation. It could be the Catholic laws on divorce -- although it seems a bit crazy to worry about that, when he is openly living with another woman. For all intents and purposes, he might as well be remarried. I have trouble believing that he is just so devoted to her that he is willing to go through all these legal battles in order to have Terri's "wishes" (which seem to be based upon a few offhand comments on the issue) fulfilled. There are some indications that he may have been abusive; there are no conclusions on that, since the court decided that it was irrelevant in the current case. With some people, the fight itself becomes the issue, and I suspect that's what's going on here.
And, of course, conservatives are making major political hay out of this case. I ran into one blogger who commented that it's too bad that they aren't more concerned about feeding those who are conscious. Not to mention the fact they want to limit malpractice suits, like the one that has been paying for Terri's care all this time, or that they want to prevent families who are faced with such enormous medical bills from filing bankruptcy. Keeping people alive, who need total care, takes money -- and that money has to come from somewhere, whether its taxes, lawsuits, or a family spending itself into bankruptcy. Conservatives don't like any of those things.
Legally, the courts have spoken. None of them has found sufficient grounds to removed Michael Schaivo from guardianship -- and when the chips are down, it is a patient's legal guardian that makes decisions like this. And I don't think it should be otherwise.