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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Legal to Decline Treatment in Australia.

Britain is certainly not the only country grappling with assisted suicide at the moment (see prior post). From Singapore to China, Britain to the US, assisted suicide is proving to challenge courts and public opinion around the globe. As populations age, life-prolonging technologies develop and health care becomes a juggernaut in many national budgets, countries are being forced to grapple with how they can legally provide citizens with the death they choose without subjecting doctors to prosecution. Most often these challenges are legal.

In Australia, the case of Christian Rossiter, a quadriplegic who won the right to deny life-prolonging medical treatment from the home where he was a resident. Rossiter died of a chest infection after winning the legal right to not receive nutrition and hydration. Australians who support Mr. Rossiter's petition fear that the government and the medical profession are not representing public opinion on the matter.

While Mr Ray hopes Christian Rossiter's story brings legal reform one step closer, he believes politicians will continue to stand in the way.

"It is a rather sad situation that while euthanasia has been supported by over 80 per cent of the population, it is the parliamentarians who are holding it back," he said.

"It is the parliamentarians' fright of what a small minority of the electorate will do to their future electoral prospects [that is] stopping this legislation from going through.
The story does not identify that small minority of the electorate demographically.

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"You Stink" Kevorkian Speaks at Kutztown University.

Yesterday assisted suicide's controversial and estranged elder statesman, Jack Kevorkian, drew a crowd of 850 people for a talk at Kutztown University. From the Allentown Morning Call:

But he later covered the same controversial comments that had become his calling card in the 1990s, calling for a pilot program for physician-assisted suicide. He blamed the legal debate over the issue as the religious sect ''politicizing'' it and said he did it to end a patient's suffering.''As a doctor, it was my duty,'' he said. ''Who else would do it? A benevolent layman?''


Edward Nearly of Reading stood outside Kevorkian's lecture with his mother, two sons, two nephews and niece to underscore the message that suicide in any circumstance is wrong.With signs with phrases such as ''Trust God and Not Man,'' Nearly said he opposed everything Kevorkian stands for.

''God is the only author of death,'' he said.

The newspaper interestingly chose, as Kevorkian does at times, to frame the assisted suicide debate, and indeed the controversy surrounding Kevorkian to some extent, as a religious argument.

When asked by an audience member whether he sought forgiveness from God, Kevorkian responded, ''Who's God?'' The comment was met by applause.

The talk gave Kevorkian a chance to further clarify his use of terminology:

He also doesn't believe in calling what he did euthanasia. That's a Greek word, meaning easy death. And that's not what Kevorkian said he did. He calls it patholysis, meaning illness solution or relief of suffering.

By making relief of suffering the focus of the debate, Kevorkian and other advocates are attempting to remove the "who cuts the thread" question out of consideration - under the Oregon, Washington, and Montana laws only terminal patients, those already condemned to death by an illness and of sound mind, are eligible for death with dignity. If the discussion focuses on ending suffering, less public resistence is likely.

Always cantankerous and quirky, Kevorkian responded to one questioner who asked what he thought happened after death, "You stink."

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Death with Dignity Clarity in Britain.

Debbie Purdy, a British patient with Multiple Sclerosis, won a case in June that allows her to seek assisted suicide without the threat that her partner, Omar, will be prosecuted for his assistance.

This week, the House of Lords hopes to clarify their policy:

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has drawn up an interim policy aimed at clarifying the law for people who want to die and are assisted by a "compassionate partner".

"This policy will cover assisted suicide wherever it takes place, including in England and Wales," Starmer told the Guardian. "It's a question of steering the right line between protecting the vulnerable, and not prosecuting in those cases where most members of the public would think it really isn't appropriate to prosecute."

Starmer hopes the new guidelines will help to clarify the Purdy ruling and lay clear regulations for those who assist terminal loved ones to hasten their death.

More on Kier Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, here.

More from the "pro-life" side of things from Wesley J. Smith who loves democracy until the public oppose his views and from John Smeaton, director of the British Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and a party in the case against Debbie Purdy.

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