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March 21, 2005

Schiavo: We Report; You Decide

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

Following the Terri Schiavo case? How can you not?

The respective sides are summarized quite well in these two places: a Wall Street Journal editorial and a blog article from Obsidian Wings.

No surprise--the WSJ editorial is billed as the case for life, or maybe "life". Obsidian Wings makes . . . well, not the case for death, exactly, but the case for patient autonomy under current law.

Unless I am missing something--and the 2Blowhards readership is often good at finding just such nuggets--Obsidian Wings makes mincemeat of the WSJ view, which comes across as necessarily vague and hazy, owing to the fact that the facts do not seem (to me, at any rate) support the argument for "life".

Obsidian Wings summarizes the facts compellingly and persuasively. What does the Journal have, really, in response? No facts. No arguments from precedent or law. Just the usual drumbeat: liberals, as with gay marriage, have hijacked the public process and using it for their own, elite, ends. And the people will be heard.

Now, I'd agree with the Journal if the issue were gay marriage. Humans, including liberals, have a tendency to want what they want, and do not always select the most prudent path in accomplishing their aims. While a consensus may well develop over time in favor of gay marriage, we are not yet in that spot, and judicial efforts to direct the public on a fundamental question of values should be contested.

Alas poor Journal, the issues framed in the Schiavo case are miles from the issues framed with respect to gay marriage. To wit, I'd bet a dollar that the current law and practice relative to patient autonomy, as detailed in Obsidian Wings, in fairly representative of social consensus. You have only to see how the Congressional supporters of re-inserting the feeding tube have had to dissemble and prevaricate. That alone is an indication that they do not believe their actual argument would survive in the sunlight of open discussion. It's a mistake, substantively and politically, to try to fit this issue into a one-size-fits-all tirade about liberal elites.



posted by Fenster at March 21, 2005


I think we should all take a step back. The husband says his wife wants "x." That trumps her parents, and it trumps the State. Unless the idea is to strip people of self-determination rights -- then the idea of Congress getting involved is jus fine.

Posted by: Isaac B2 on March 21, 2005 3:08 PM

I understand the doctors "first do no harm" thing that Frist refers to, but really. How can we say that keeping a body alive for 15 years (with no 'person' inside) isn't doing more harm? Why is it that we always think death is a bad thing? It's permanent, sure, but it's also a release...part of the life cycle? What's so wrong with these folks that they can't just say, "okay, enough for the poor lady. Time to cut bait."
The people who likely have the most info on how Teri's REALLY doing are the nurses...and I've yet to see anyone ask them what their professional opinion is!

Posted by: MamaO on March 21, 2005 3:18 PM

Keep walking Isaac. The husband has been reported as living with another woman for 10 years, and having two kids with her. I don't know if you have sisters or daughters, but that kind of behavior kind of downgrades the husband's status.

Posted by: Chris on March 21, 2005 3:36 PM

Simply put, the husband should have divorced his wife as soon as he decided he wanted to shack up w/ the other women. If he's living w/ another women and has had kids by her, then he has no moral right to call himself Terri's husband. There's a thing called propriety, and people have a right to be outraged when it's violated. If that was my sister or daughter, I'd beat the crap out of an adulterous jerk who dishonoured her.

Posted by: Zetjintsu on March 21, 2005 4:11 PM

I think this issue is confused by misconceptions on both the left and right. On the right, that Terri is alive. That which was Terri ceased to exist in this world a long time ago. On the left, I think there's a fear of how awful it'd be to "imprisoned" in a vegetable body. This is a fallacy caused by looking at it from the perspective of our current self. However, if we go brain dead our current self will be gone, and we won't have the fallcilities to consider our vegetative state tortourous. Being a vegetable is not horrendous for the vegetable, though I do wonder if being cruelly starved to death does cause them distress...

To give the husband credit, I think he does believe in what he's doing, that this is what "Terri wants." The error of course is that Terri doesn't want anything, she's long dead. And the vegetable that Terri's become certainly doesn't "want" to die, if it want's anything it's to take in nutrients/air, sleep, and eliminate.

Which makes this a somewhat low stake issue as there's nothing in reality that's being fought over; there is no Terri for the right to save the
"life" of, and there is no Terri for the left to liberate from her "imprisonment". The husband would lose nothing if Terri was spared. However, and this is what I think is key, her parents will suffer greatly if she's killed.

Yes, this is because of their misconception that Terri is still alive, but the fact is that that's how they are perceiving reality, and there's nothing that can be done to change that. If Terri's killed, they'll experience the horror of believing there precious daughter was cruelly murdered by an adulterous monster posing as her husband. Only and utterly insensitive jerk would inflict such suffering upon parents. A bitterness like that will stay with them like poison the rest of there lives. If the parents can pay for her treatment costs, then let them keep their comforting little delusion alive. The husband may currently have the legal right to end her life, but it's not the right choice.

Or you can be jerk and believe they should get over it and accept our sceintific understanding of the situation, but then you're commiting the arrogant sin of thinking others can and should think like you, but that's unrealistic thinking and trampling over the feelings of others with your ideology. What's at stake here is the very real feelings of parents for their beloved daughter. It may be something small, but I think a lot of us on the right get mad when the left tries to cheapen that.

And yes, there is the whole rule of law thing. I agree this whole affair should be conducted within that framework. Fortunatnly there's an easy solution. Florida can pass a law stating that in the case a spouse in a coma or similarly incapacitated and their spouse takes up living w/ a new partner, a relative of the comaee may sue for divorce on their behalf.

Posted by: Zetjintsu on March 21, 2005 4:45 PM

Following the Terri Schiavo case? How can you not?

Oh, easily. Very, very easily indeed.

Posted by: Brian on March 21, 2005 6:34 PM

As both a parent and a wife I can sympathize with each side. Did the husband commit some atrocity by creating another life for himself? Does he have an ulterior motive for his decision to let Terri die? Are the parents being selfish and delusional? Answers to these questions are not my judgement to make, nor should they be that of a state or national government. Sadly, I believe Congress is getting involved in order to push a different agenda later and will use the Schiavo case to their advantage if the parents' will prevails.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on March 21, 2005 9:24 PM

About the only amusing thing in this whole sorry episode is how it points up the universality of hypocrisy. It seems that whenever someone goes on about "constitutional principles", they really mean "The constitution means whatever I want to mean in order to get what I want." I, myself, have been convinced over the years by the right's contention that Roe v. Wade was an unconstitutional imposition on the right of states to make their own laws; now these same people are soing exectly what they excoriate the Supreme Court for doing, without blinking an eye.

I happen to be somewhat leary of the husband's behavior in this case, (particularly his refusal to allow certain tests that are standard in these cases to confirm the diagnosis of PVS), but the fact is the law is the law, it was followed in this case, there is no basis for the feds to get involved, and that's that.

Posted by: jimbo on March 22, 2005 9:10 AM

There are, of course, no real villians in the Schiavo family. It's virtually impossible not to feel for both sides. The villians here are George Bush, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist and the Republican congress busily trying to make political hay out of this tragic situation, and the limp dick Democrats going along with them out of fear. This administration is composed of the most utterly loathesome collection of scumbags and assholes as have ever held sway in this country. Conservatives love to say that liberals hate America. I'm not sure I'm exactly a liberal, and I sure as hell don't hate America. But I truly hate the above mentioned politicians as much as I've ever hated anyone I didn't know personally.

Posted by: Mike Padgett on March 22, 2005 3:37 PM

Those last five posts are the smartest, sanest commentary I've yet read on this whole sad circus.

Ultimately, for me anyway, I think the decision has to rest with her husband (who claims to be following her wishes) and the courts (who found in his favour). The moral posturing from Tom "Hey-don't-look-at-my-financial-abuses" DeLay has been disgusting, and the potential precedent this sets unsettling.

Posted by: Scott D on March 22, 2005 4:18 PM

This piece, from Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, is the best I've seen on Congressional shenanigans in the Schiavo case.

But this really gets my goat:

"While a consensus may well develop over time in favor of gay marriage, we are not yet in that spot, and judicial efforts to direct the public on a fundamental question of values should be contested." In my lifetime the same was said of interracial marriage.

Personlly, I want the state out of marriage altogether -- that's something you do in a church or synagogue or temple or among your circle of caring friends. Civil contracts regarding inheritance, custody, and insurance are the business of the state and should completely ignore the sexes of those making the contract.

Posted by: Mike Snider on March 22, 2005 5:06 PM

Well, now that the courts have established severe brain-damage as being dead and our society perceives human beings with severe brain-damage as a worthless, non-existant life, then how can we advocate using 'disgarded' human embryos for the purpose of hopefully discovering a non-existant thing such as a 'stem cell cure' designed to save that which our society has apparently defined as a worthless, non-existant life.

The irony in all this Enlightened reasoning is utterly extraordinary.

Posted by: syn on March 23, 2005 1:14 PM

Thomas Fleming notes:

"In fact, the Schindlers had no trouble with that diagnosis [PVS] when they supported their son-in-law’s malpractice suit or even later, when they attempted to replace him as legal guardian."

Posted by: Chris on March 23, 2005 5:08 PM

Obsidian Blackness

The bioethicist thinks people think Ms. Schiavo is “the victim of some alarming new indignity.” No, people think Ms. Schiavo is the victim of an indignity revealed by video and her parents.

I advise bioethicists, and this one is a brainwashed, misleading liberal. “The only thing unusual about Terri Schiavo’s case that’s at all unusual is the amount of attention it has received.” Yes it would be unusual were a murder in the Sudan given the amount of attention given to Ms. Schiavo. And?

Our ethical biologist proceeds to tell us “basic” an irrelevant fact such as Ms. Schiavo was bulimic. Awwwl righty then….

“Eight years later,” the evil (but then, charitably, indecisive) hubby asked a stranger, the Florida Courts, to tell him whether he should kill his wife or not. This assumes a disinterested person can decide our fate better than we or our relatives can. Surely this is an illustration of Mr. Jim Kalb’s idea that liberalism encompasses the idea that experts should control us.

This ethical person questions whether Ms. Schiavo’s parents are credible. Let me see, my parents care for my helpless self for 15 years and they are somehow less credible than my ex-husband who wants to kill me and keep all of the money I won?

“How anyone could think that Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube was being remove without due consideration.” And?

The ethicist propounds: “The only debate between the doctors is whether she has a small amount of isolated living tissue….” So she is living? He even sloppily cites people claiming to be eminently qualified about the issue.

The ethicist then moves beyond his expertise into legal territory. He contends her sweetheart is her [legal] guardian. And what has this to do with ethics?

Our ethicist cites law about incompetents. And what has this to do with ethics or right and wrong?

What is wrong about a complete stranger, the government, insisting that I be kept alive with a feeding tube and loving nursing care? Our Expert ethicist thinks the answer is removing the tube.

“The most plausible place to disagree…is…taking evidence of an incompetent person's views and wishes to determine whether that person would have consented to treatment.” So we should not take evidence of an incompetent person’s wishes?

I am tired of this expert drivel, and I hope the readers will disregard the rest of this fellow human being’s writing. I am weary of Mr. Kalb’s bane: listening to experts.

Posted by: Paul Henri on March 23, 2005 11:13 PM

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