Death and Dying
my first and last written thoughts on the Terri Schiavo saga
We've been discussing the Terri Schiavo saga in our house all weekend and it's prompted us to make living wills. I'm of the mind that laying in a vegetative state for fifteen years is not living at all and I would rather my family not try to keep me going in the hopes that one day I'll suddenly sit up and say "Hi mom and dad!" when in fact, if I did wake up, my first reaction would be to yell at my family for making go through that just so they didn't have to deal with my death.
Fifteen years of not being able to feed yourself, think for yourself, form a verbal thought, get dressed, tell anyone where it hurts, plead for medication, read a book, sit at a family dinner....that's not living. That's being kept alive. There is a difference, in my mind.
Obviously, I'm not a medical expert. This is all my own opinion. But I tend to think that even if Terri is cognizant of any of her surroundings at all (which is something I find rather unlikely), she can't be too happy at being who and what she is. Is that a way you would want to live? For fifteen years? Would you want to be trapped inside a useless body all that time, watching events unfold around you, knowing that you are a financial and emotional burden to those you love, that your parents and immediate family have lived every minute of the last fifteen years fighting to keep you in this vegetative state? Personally - again, my opinion - I would want to be dead, buried and a memory.
I hope that if it ever came to a situation like this one, the government would choose to stay out of my business. Who is Congress to step in and make rules and regulations about this one particular person, this one particular life? What about six month old Sun Hudson, whose breathing tube was removed this week, against his parents wishes? Well, there was no mass media coverage of little Sun's death, so why would there be any politicians around?
The political grandstanding going on in the Schiavo case is sickening.
Congress? Shamelessly grandstanding? You don't say. You know, for a bunch of "strict constructionists," these GOP lawmakers are awfully eager to crap all over the Constitution when it comes to "activist lawmaking." Laws narrowly tailored to apply to a specific person or a specific case are baldly unconstitutional. As are ex post facto laws. Anything legislation Congress may try to pass to prolong Schiavo's life would fail both of those tests on its face.
If her brain damage has resulted in her being forever incapable of having a rich inner life, that ability to converse internally and appreciate the now and remember and dream that seems to make us distinctly human, then there is nothing immoral in ending her life now.
If she is capable of having "a life," as opposed to simply "being alive," then to end her life would be immoral.That said, if the goal is to end unnecessary suffering, then to allow her to starve to death strikes me as immoral. If the decision is that her "life" is over, and that she is merely "alive," then there's no rational reason not to actively move to end her biological life through lethal injection or the like.
After fifteen years of being not just a vegetable, but a pawn, and, in some instances, a puppet whose strings have been pulled in order for her to perform little "tricks" to show she is alive (again, opinion, I don't believe any of that), is that living a life?In Andy's comments, Mike Ditto says:
She won't starve to death. She'll have multiple organ failure culminating in cardiac arrest as a result of dehydration, and during that time the nurses will keep her as comfortable as possible by giving her morphine and likely a sedative such as Ativan, as well as artificial tears, saliva, and a lip moistening gel. A side effect of the morphine will be to suppress her respiration, which will hasten the process. Her body will be comfortable. Her mind won't know the difference, because she has no capacity to experience anything cognitively. I've been through this with five relatives in the past 12 years, including my grandmother last month. It's the most humane way to go given the doctor's legal inability to intentionally provide a drug for the purpose of causing someone's body to shut down. When I go, I want to die instantly; but if I were to suffer an extended illness or be profoundly incapacitated, this is how I would want to go.
Which reiterates everything I've read on that very subject in the past few days. Mike also says at his own blog:
...[T]he torture is being perpetrated on both the parents and the husband, and the torture will continue as long as unethical, unqualified, religiously-motivated "experts" (most of whom have never reviewed Terri's medical records, and none of whom have actually examined her) keep giving patently false advice to the parents that someone with no cerebral cortex is a thinking, interactive human being just waiting to snap out of a light coma.Again, Radley Balko:
What the hell is wrong with us? Why is it that when it get to the point of letting someone go, we force terimally sick people to die in one of the most agaonizing ways possible? Why is starving someone to death by removing a feeding tube considered humane, but injecting a terminal, pain-ridden patient with a solution designed to let them die painlessly forbidden? I know the answer. But it isn't acceptable. The answer is that removing a feeding tube isn't proactive. Whereas injecting someone with lethal, but merciful drugs is. That's asinine
Yes, it is. I wish I could make a living will that says, please do not let me suffer, do not let me linger in some horrible half-living, half-dead state. Shoot me full of some drug that will allow me to die a peaceful, painless death. Just let me go. Would that we could do that for everyone. Have you ever watched someone die? I watched both my grandparents die long, lingering deaths. Painful, dragged out deaths that made me think at many points it would just be so much more humane to give them a nice drug that would put them into a deep sleep from which they would never wake. It would be over. The pain, the suffering, the agony - and yes, those things apply to both the patient and the patient's family - would be over.
I mention this to people and they say, only God has the right to say when a life is over. Let God do his work. So is it God's design that my grandmother was to spend months in a hospital, floating between consciousness and unconsciousness, breathing on her own and then not breathing on her own, unable to recognize her children, her family called to the hospital time and time again to say good-bye, only to have it stretched out again when she was brought back to life, just to spend another couple of weeks dying? What kind of life is that?
For fifteen years Terri Schiavo has been dying. And these politicians, who don't know Terri, who don't know her family, are clamoring to claim that she not be allowed to die? And our government overall wants to tell us that - all of us - when we are in a similar situation that involves us laying in a hospital in pain, in agony, inches away from death, our families tortured by their constant bedside vigil, our eyes unfocused, our brain not functioning, our limbs not moving on their own, our children watching us die a slow, terrible death, that our loved ones cannot gently put a needle into our arms and end it for us, even though that's what we would desire, that we have no right to honor the wishes of someone who knows that enough is enough, that doesn't want their family to go through this, that doesn't want to go through this themselves, they - our lawmakers, our leaders, have the audacity to determine that there should be no such thing as mercy killing, that we must suffer until some mysterious man in the sky lets our suffering ends, or until our bodies run out of steam and finally shut down, no matter how long it takes - I find that all abhorrent. I would hope that should I ever find myself in a situation like this, one of my family members would have enough guts and enough sense to come into my hospital room in the middle of the night and put a pillow over my face.
Make a living will, people. Today.