Right to Die or Right to Kill?

Terri Schiavo needs protection, not starvation

I’m getting tired of hearing how “right wing zealots” are denying Terri Schiavo her constitutional “right to die.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Schiavo case, let me summarize. In 1990, a 26-year-old woman named Terri Schiavo collapsed in her home. No one knows why. She lapsed into a coma, from which she emerged several weeks later. Since that time, she has been in what doctors call a “locked in” state. According to her family’s web site, “she is responsive to stimuli, interacts with her environment and her loved ones and is capable of communicating in limited ways. . .”

After emerging from her coma, Terri’s doctors noted her efforts to speak and her responsiveness to external stimuli. She was able to eat Jell-O and was speaking words. But after a 1993 court settlement awarded Terri 1.2 million dollars, her husband and guardian Michael Schiavo – who had promised to use the money to rehabilitate and care for Terri “for the rest of her life” -- ordered that her rehabilitative therapy be stopped. As a result, Terri once again lost the ability to eat, and a feeding tube was inserted nourish and hydrate her. In 1998 Schiavo petitioned the circuit courts of Pinellas County, Florida to end her life by removing her feeding tube. After a protracted legal battle between Schiavo and Terri’s parents, the court ordered in the fall of 2003 that the tubes be removed. They were indeed removed, which would have caused Terri to die of starvation and dehydration within 10 to 14 days. But Florida governor Jeb Bush and the state legislature intervened, passing “Terri’s Law” and requiring the reinsertion of the tubes while the matter is examined more thoroughly.

And so Terri Schiavo’s life hangs in the balance.

Many in the media are hailing this as a “right to die” case. They say that Terri is in persistent vegetative state, that she has no hope of meaningful life, and that she should be allowed to die.

But make no mistake – this is most definitely not a right-to-die case. It’s a right-to-kill case. And the stakes are high, not just for Terri, but for all of the vulnerable, disabled people of the world.

First of all, numerous doctors have observed that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state. The state of Florida defines persistent vegetative state as "a permanent and irreversible state of unconsciousness in which there is an absence of voluntary or cognitive behavior and an inability to interact purposefully with one's environment." Terri is in no such condition. Videotapes show Terri closely watching her family’s movement, verbalizing in response to questions, responding to simple commands, and laughing when listening to her favorite music. No fewer than ten physicians are on record with the court saying that Terri was aware and her condition could improve with therapy. In fact, a Nobel nominee in medicine, Dr. William Hammesfahr, has offered to treat her and provide her rehabilitation without charge.

And then there are the issues surrounding her guardian and husband, Michael Schiavo. Schiavo has repeatedly denied Terri the rehabilitative therapy recommended by medical professionals treating her. He has also repeatedly ordered that Terri not be treated for life-threatening infections, and blocked “swallowing tests” that would determine whether Terri could be taught to eat without her feeding tubes. Schiavo has also blocked tests that would determine if Terri sustained bone damage around the time of her collapse, clarifying lingering suspicions that her collapse may have been the result of abuse at Schiavo’s hand.

In 1995 Schiavo moved in with girlfriend Jodi Centonze, and in 1997 the two announced their engagement. The couple, still cohabitating, now have two children together. And yet Schiavo refuses to divorce Terri.

And what of Terri’s wishes? Schiavo and his brother claim that, in casual conversation, they heard Terri say that she wouldn’t want to be ‘kept alive by machines.” Her parents vigorously deny that she ever made any such comments. 
Even if Terri expressed such a wish, was it an offhand comment or something she had reflected deeply upon? And was she really saying that she’d want to starve to death? Those close to her believe that she is now making every effort to communicate that she does not want to die.

Terri Schiavo is aware of her surroundings. She feels pain. And starvation is not a painless way to die. It is, in fact, a particularly torturous and cruel death.

No, this case is not about the right of a terminally ill person to refuse useless life-prolonging treatment. It is about the right of an adulterous, neglectful and possibly abusive husband to sentence his wife to a slow, excruciating death.

If Michael Schiavo prevails, Terri will not be the only victim. The world will become a far more dangerous place for all of those who are disabled and unable to speak for themselves.

Someday, that could be you or me.

For more information, go to www.terrisfight.org