Terri is Dead
By John D. Turner
2 Apr 2005

Thirteen days after “pulling the plug”, Terri Schiavo finally succumbed to the well-wishes of her husband and various assorted judicial mind-readers, and shuffled off this mortal coil to a far better place than the one in which we live.

How long does it take for someone to die, deprived of both food and water? In Terri’s case, the answer was thirteen days. I could experiment. I could duct tape my dog’s muzzle shut and see how long it would take her to perish in similar circumstances. Except that if I were to do so, I would most likely be thrown in jail for cruelty to animals. And deservedly so.

But for humans, apparently, it’s ok. Particularly if we take a poll and most people seem to be cool with it.

Admittedly, if this were done to someone against their will, that would be deemed murder, and quite unacceptable. The perpetrator would most likely go to jail, unless, of course, they were rich enough to be able to afford good enough lawyers to get them off the hook.

So then, since a court has ordered that this be done to Ms Schiavo, we must conclude that, as barbaric as it may seem, it was not done against her wishes. Did anyone ask Ms Schiavo?

Well, we couldn’t of course. As a severely brain-damaged person, she was unable to make her wishes known. How then, do we know that this is what she wanted? Did she left behind a legal document of some sort, stating what she would desire in such a case? No, she didn’t. But her husband says that she mentioned once after watching a movie that she wouldn’t want to be kept alive by artificial means; that she would rather they just pull the plug and get it over with. So that’s what, ultimately, after much legal wrangling, was done.

If anyone benefited from this, it was certainly the lawyers. Years of legal fighting must have added up to quite a tab for them.

Even if true, it’s doubtful that starving and dehydrating to death over a period of thirteen days or longer is exactly what she had in mind. Is anyone out there eager to select such an option for themselves?

Most people, when they think of “pulling the plug” on life support envision turning off a respirator connected to a brain-dead patient who then quickly succumbs in a matter of minutes. A video of Terri quickly shows that she was anything but brain-dead. And her death was anything but quick.

We can discuss forever exactly what is meant by “persistent vegetative state”, but the image that the term conjures in the minds of most people is hardly consistent with the videos we have seen of her in the hospital. Severely handicapped, yes. Brain-damaged, certainly. But hardly comatose and unaware of her surroundings.

I have heard it said that due to her condition, she felt no pain. It’s a nice sentiment I’m sure, and makes us feel better and more “caring”, but how do we know for sure that it’s true? I have also heard people in the past say that babies undergoing an abortion, whereby they are literally torn limb from limb feel no pain either. This has since proven to be false (not that it seems to make any difference).

In a court of law, before we put a person to death, a jury must be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the perpetrator is guilty. The burden of proof for sentencing another human being to die is much heavier than that required in a civil court, where a “preponderance of the evidence” is enough to gain a judgment against someone. Was it been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Terri Schiavo would want to die under these circumstances? Was there even a preponderance of the evidence?

Did we even have a creditable witness? Her husband? A man who has established a separate household and fathered two children with what is described as his “common-law wife”? Didn’t he have a vested interest in seeing Terri dead? Obviously, if she had suddenly “snapped out of it” and become even semi-functional, he wouldn’t have simply picked up his life with her where they left off. A divorce would certainly be in the offing.

Why he didn’t simply file for one before now is certainly a mystery – unless there is some reason why he needed to be married to her when she died, vice simply cutting all ties. The fact that he is now in a committed relationship with another woman, raising another family, would seem to indicate that he was no longer in a committed relationship with her. So why did his testimony carry so much weight? Particularly when her family had committed to taking care of her for the rest of her natural existence. Michael Schiavo had no need to stick around; he could have walked at any time – unless there was something else going on that we are not aware of.

In the absence of a bona fide legal document, attesting to her wishes, we are left with hearsay evidence from her adulterous husband that once upon a time Terri mentioned that she would not want to be kept alive in such circumstances. Nice. Does this mean that any off-hand remark we might make is now legally binding in a court of law? Be careful what you say! Not only might you offend someone (so easy to do today where it seems that so many people are just waiting to be offended by someone), but you might end up dead as a result!

And who hasn’t said things, at one time or another, they truly didn’t mean? Or which at a later date they would change their mind on? As a teenager, I knew kids who said they didn’t want to live past the age of 30. Although I haven’t seen them in many years, I doubt they committed suicide once they turned 31.

As barbaric as it may seem, a court of law here in the United States of America, supposedly the most powerful and freest nation that has ever existed, ordered the death of one of its citizens by starvation and dehydration on the hearsay evidence of an unfaithful husband. Without legal document to the contrary, and with family members not only willing but eager to care for her, shouldn’t we have sided with life over death?

They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows. So apparently do moral issues. Thus it was that I found myself, for the first time, in agreement with Jesse Jackson, a man that I have absolutely no use for politically or personally. It is my belief that the man is a hypocrite, a racist, and an opportunist. When I first heard that he was traveling to Florida to support Terri Schiavo, my first thought was that he was taking the opportunity to get himself a little publicity; he hasn’t been in the news much lately.

A natural thought, I suppose, considering my political bent and personal dislike for the man. An unworthy thought as well, and I have been humbled since I heard him speak the other night on the Sean Hannity show. While I still disagree with Jessie on almost every issue he espouses, he is spot-on concerning this one. And sincere. Considering the stink the major media made concerning those supporting re-inserting Terri’s feeding tube, Jessie could hardly have come out in support in order to win political points. In doing so, he went against major players in his own political party, trying to convince them to change their votes on legislation that would put the tube back in. I must say, my hat is off to Jessie Jackson.

I heard on the radio, someone, whose name currently escapes me, say that the only people who were in support of not allowing Terri to die were a small segment of society consisting mainly of “angry white males”. Interesting. I wonder if Jessie considers himself to be in that category. And what about the many women I have heard also in support?

Why should I not be angry? This happened in a country where the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is supposed to be unalienable. Of these three, circumstance beyond the control of Man deprived Ms Schiavo of two. Having been convicted of no crime deserving of a sentence of death, it should not have been the position of Government (the courts being one of its branches) to deprive her of the third.

Yet I hear on the left that this is a victory for the right to die movement. That pulling the plug is not only an option, it is the heroic thing to do. That everyone should rush right out and get a living will so that if the same happens to them, the decision will already be made. After all, it’s all about quality of life and “moving on”. Who wants to live, being kept alive by a machine anyway?

Ask someone on kidney dialysis. Incidentally, if you were to “pull the plug” on them, they would die much quicker than Ms Schiavo has.

How many people in this country are currently being kept alive by “artificial” means? What about people who take medication for high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, or heart medication? Should we “pull the plug” on them as well? What about others who are perhaps not quite aware of their surroundings?

Perhaps this is the beginning of a liberal solution to the looming problems of Social Security and Medicare. They don’t want to cut benefits. They don’t want privatization. They don’t want to increase the age at which benefits are drawn. They might not mind raising taxes, but that is a political non-starter. The cause of the problem is two fold; not enough new workers entering the workforce (of course, aborting 45 million of our citizens might have contributed to this problem) to support a population that is living longer than ever before. Instead of attacking the problem at the supply side (workers entering the work force), perhaps they are looking at the demand (people living past 65). If fewer people were to live so long, then fewer people would be drawing benefits and the problem could be eliminated.

We could start with people like Terri, and work our way down. Convince everyone that they need a living will instructing doctors to let them punch out under the proper circumstances. Convince people that this is a “heroic” thing to do. Slowly lower the bar to include more marginal cases. Make people feel guilty for wanting to live too long. Make them think that a reduction in their “quality of life” (whatever that slippery, undefinable term means) is a good reason to end it all.

Perhaps eventually we can get to the world of Logan’s Run (the movie), populated by beautiful people with all the quality of life you could ask for, who don’t need social security, or medicare, because no one lives past the age of 30.

Anyone ready to concede now that perhaps this was a bad idea?