On March 31, after 15 years on a feeding tube and trapped in a persistent vegetative state, Terri Schiavo finally passed away. This was, of course, a tragic event. But the true tragedy is that it took 15 years to carry out her wishes. What should have been one woman’s decision was used by politicians and special interest groups across the country for their own benefit.
It is worth discussing, for the benefit of readers who are not aware of the specifics of the Schiavo case, what led to her death on March 31. In February of 1990, Terri went into cardiac arrest and first entered a persistent vegetative state.
In May of 1990, her husband took her to the College Park care and rehabilitation facility in Florida, in hopes of reviving her. Michael Schiavo even had Terri take part in an experiment to use implants to stimulate her brain, to no avail.
It was not until 1994, nearly five years after she had first entered the hospital, that Michael gave up attempts to treat her. And it was not until May of 1998 that Michael petitioned the court to allow him to withdraw Terri’s feeding tube.
The court ruled in February of 2000 that if Terri wanted, she could die rather than be “hooked to a machine,” as she herself said. It was at this point that the circus began.
Many people are understandably uneasy about this case. People have watched videos of Terri on television and their first impression was that she was aware of what was going on around her. Sadly, this was not the case.
For one thing, that footage was merely clips of much longer videos, in which Terri did not seem to be aware of anyone in the room.
As Judge George Greer stated in his ruling in 2002 after viewing the tapes in their entirety, “The court has carefully viewed the videotapes as requested by counsel and does find that these actions were neither consistent nor reproducible.”
It is also clear that Terri’s condition would never have improved.
According to CAT scans conducted on Terri, her cerebral cortex was destroyed and essentially liquefied. The cerebral cortex is one of the most important parts of the brain and is crucial for intelligence, personality, memory and even basic consciousness.
Without it, Terri was not capable of performing any of the activities that we associate with being alive.
It is also worth considering just why Michael was Terri’s guardian. We would all agree, of course, that Terri’s wishes were the ones that would have mattered. When Terri married Michael, she declared that he was to be her legal guardian in the event that she was incapacitated.
If we wanted to respect Terri’s wishes, then we would wish for Michael, who knew her better at this point in her life than her parents did, to carry out Terri’s decision.
The courts also confirmed that Terri would have in fact wanted to be taken off of life support. At the funeral for Mr. Schiavo’s grandmother, in the presence of several witnesses, Terri said that if she were ever on life support, “Don’t leave me there. I don’t want to be kept alive on a machine.”
The Schindler family claimed that Terri told them that she would want to be kept alive at any cost.
However, Mrs. Schindler admitted in court that they discussed it when she was 11 years old.
Surely we can all agree that the wishes of Terri at the time she entered a coma would be more accurately reflected by what she said when she was married to Michael than when she was 11.
What is truly disturbing to me, however, is how we have seen numerous special interest groups in the United States latch onto the case for their own selfish benefit.
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) claimed that the courts had murdered Terri by taking her off of life support and said that, “the time will come for the men responsible for (the court’s approval to take Terri Schiavo off of life support) to answer for their behavior.”
Yet, he had no problem taking his own father off of life support after he had been on it for only 30 days, as opposed to several years.
President Bush has also taken a hypocritical stance in this case. He claimed that Terri is not being represented in court.
But as governor of Texas, he signed the Advanced Directives Act, which gave hospitals the right to deny life support to patients who had no chance of recovery, even if the family supported continuing life support.
The act was used just six weeks ago to remove life support from an infant against the parents’ wishes.
But as president, Bush cut his vacation short to return to Washington to sign a bill transferring the Schiavo case to a federal court. Either he has had a sudden change of heart, or he is pandering to his political base.
The Democrats, it must be admitted, were little better. No major Democratic congressman came out to oppose the bill that passed Terri’s case to the Congressional court.
This was a craven and cowardly attempt to avoid the wrath of conservative groups in America and they should be ashamed for doing what was easy instead of what was right.
One hopes that some good may come out of the disaster that Terri suffered.
Many Americans would not wish to be kept alive in a state like Terri’s and hopefully more Americans will tell their family what they want to have happen to them in such a situation and write living wills.
America has seen politicians take advantage of one family’s tragedy for their own personal gain. While Terri may have found peace at last, I suspect it will be a long time before the rest of America does.