The question that won't go away

Friday, March 25, 2005

Ididn't want to write this week's column on the subject of Terri Schiavo. She is, after all, someone's daughter, someone's sister, somebody's cousin … . She deserves a lot more respect than to be the cause celebré for March 2005. But it appears she won't be on this earth much longer.

It appeared her parents' legal options finally ran out Thursday, with the rejection from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida judge who has consistently ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo refusing to put Terri in protective custody of the state's governor.

Everyone who's anyone seems to have weighed in, from Web sites urging "We especially need your help now in our fight to save Terri Schiavo." right above a form shilling for your credit card information, to editorial cartoonists who mock Schiavo as a vegetable or compare her feeding tube to the gas pump hose hooked into a huge, gas-sucking SUV.

I personally have no idea what Terri would want to happen in 2005. I won't hazard a guess on the worthiness of receiving nutrition by a feeding tube. I can tell you that medical treatment, including a week-and-a-half stay in an Intensive Care Nursery, helped make sure our oldest child lived. I've seen my mother assisted in breathing by a ventilator. Both experiences have been frightening. Because we don't know what tomorrow holds. Standing in an ICU really drives home the point that we're not untouchable -- no matter how young, strong, beautiful, loved or wealthy.

Even with personal experience with a loved one undergoing fairly extreme medical care, I still consider myself anything but worthy to determine when another human's life has value or, more importantly, doesn't have value.

But there's so much fertilizer, for lack of a more accurate term, flying around in the whole Schiavo debate. What about this line from an Associated Press report about the "planning for death" movement and the cases of Schiavo, Nancy Cruzan and Karen Ann Quinlan. "Each time, a young woman was left in a horrible limbo between life and death following a personal disaster … ." Between life and death? What the heck is between life and death? If there's an issue that's black or white, I think that's pretty much the one, isn't it? Is the author going from first-hand experience that anyone in a coma, vegetative state or merely not possessing the strength to raise her hand to her mouth lives in a "horrible limbo"? The rest of the story is dedicated to discussing how far we've come in deciding when the end, the big End, should actually be.

How about anyone, anyone on the network news or main print press services questioning the behavior of Michael Schiavo, including his ongoing relationship with another woman and fathering two kids by her. Care for a person with severe brain damage isn't cheap. But neither are attorneys. You found the cash for one. I'm also betting that Mr. Schiavo is contributing financially to his current household.

If this case is as simple as Michael Schiavo's supporters make it out, then why wasn't the "right to die" decided back in the mid-70s with Ms. Quinlan? Her parents won the right to remove a respirator the year following a mishap involving alcohol and Valium. What about the Cruzan case where the parents were able to convince the courts their daughter would not want to live in "a vegetative state?" Why do these cases keep coming to the fore? Why do we have to have Hollywood's mega-stars endorse assisted suicide and euthanasia? If it's so simple, so clear-cut, why don't more people instinctively agree with their side? Where else but at the hospice were Terri is could a person be arrested -- arrested -- for trying to take a cup of water to someone?

This question won't go away quietly because there's that part, deep inside us all that values our life, even if we don't value those we consider inconvenient. Do we really feel secure we could never be in Terri's place?