Monday, September 21, 2009

Teaching Terri Schiavo to Swallow.

The recent death of Terri Schiavo's father, Robert Schindler, of what "pro-life" activists have called "a broken heart" after the "excruciatingly painful murder" of his daughter, the accusations of euthanasia leveled against the Obama administration's health care reform plans, and the pending decision by he Montana Supreme Court case Baxter v. Montana which is expected to deem death with dignity constitutional in that state have resurrected the case of Terri Schiavo and the surrounding media hoopla of 2005 in the public's consciousness.

Wesley J. Smith, a friend of the Schindlers (who founded the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation after Schiavo's death by starvation and hydration in 2005), and a prolific anti-euthanasia writer and speaker, finds reason in a new study to once again resurrect the sad death of Sciavo:

Some persistent vegetative state patients can sometimes be taught to swallow, the study shows. Smith uses this bit to sidestep the main issue.

Michael Schiavo, often painted as the greedy, cuckholding husband, was his wife's custodian. After years of treatment and hope and attending nursing school to care for his wife full time, Michael Schiavo and doctors found that there was no chance that she would recover from persistent vegetative state. As is legal in the US, he chose to remove her from all artificial life-sustaining treatments. Terri's parents and siblings, themselves staunch Catholics, felt differently and went to court to prevent what Michael saw as a dignified choice. Terri's wishes were hearsay; she had no written advance directive as a twenty-something young woman.

You remember the rest of the story, perhaps. As part of the rehashing, in comes Smith to accuse the courts, Michael Schiavo and, well, the general population of the country, for giving up on a woman who could have been possible taught to swallow her own food. His stated point is that all life, whether unconscious, disabled, or terminal is sacred. I agree with him. His real point is that the courts should only protect those he decides, democracy is supreme unless the electorate think other than he does (as with legislative votes in Oregon and Washington to legalize death with dignity), that a husband should only be able to care for his wife's dignity so long as he holds Smith's views, and that doctors, protected under what is called the "double effect" for removing terminal or severely handicapped patients from life-support or for administering heavy doses of drugs to the suffering, should only provide those services when he thinks necessary.

Instead of allowing doctors or patients to "play God" and deliver themselves from horrible pain at the end of life, or instead of honoring laws that allow custodians to make those decisions for patients, Wesley J. Smith thinks he should be "playing God." That I find disturbing.

Whether Terri Schiavo could have been taught to swallow or not, her treatment decisions were up to Michael Schiavo, not God nor her family, not the public nor her doctors, and not to Wesley J. Smith.

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