Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Family Feud

Here's what I thought was a pretty balanced account of what's going on between the Schindlers and Michael Schaivo. I guess it grabs my attention because I grew up around family feuds -- acrimonious divorces, vicious child custody battles, the pettiness, the one-sidedness, the lies. As an adult, I have tried very hard to steer clear of anything like that, and any time I have allowed myself to get dragged in (I am, after all, talking about family, who aren't so easy to avoid), it is to my hurt and regret.

That's why I find it hard to be sympathetic with either side in the Schaivo case. In some ways, I should be able to be sympathetic to both -- this is a difficult situation, and everyone involved is losing someone close to them. But, I'm not. It's all just a big, vicious family squabble with mutual accusations flying around and small-minded digs at the other side. The Schindlers tried to get Terri divorced from Michael, so she could "die with the Schindler name". Michael is insisting that she be cremated when he knows that this will upset her Catholic parents. Could we get any more petty? The woman is dying. Somebody turn the t.v. cameras off and say some prayers.

Legally, I don't see how this case could have ended differently. As uncomfortable as I am with the idea of disconnecting a feeding tube, I like even less the idea that decisions like this be taken out of the hands of the family. Under the law, a person's spouse is the next-of-kin -- and Michael was made Terri's guardian, and the courts have denied repeated attempts to get that changed. As a parent myself, I can see how a son-in-law might seem like a Johnny-come-lately after you've been intimately concerned with a child's welfare since birth, but that's the way the law works. The parents have failed to demonstrate that that Michael is unfit as a guardian, and that's that. It's his decision; that's the law. What kind of law would we want in its place? That feeding tubes are never disconnected even if that's what the family wants? That parents, and not spouses, are made legal guardians of completely disabled people? That a government agency makes the decision?

The religious right has been making noises about a "culture of death", so I suspect that what they want is for feeding tubes to never be disconnected, in spite of the family's wishes -- which is essentially an imposition of their religious beliefs on everyone. Somewhere, in this country, there are families making this terribly difficult decision about their loved ones, and a good many of them will decide that the person they knew is no longer there, and that prolonging life is pointless. Others will make decisions similar to what the Schindlers want for their daughter. But in the absence of a living will, shouldn't that decision remain in the hands of the person closest to them?

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