February 16, 2005

Brain Dead and Starving

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of a decision overturning his efforts to force the husband of a comatose woman -- who has been in a vegitative state for 15 years -- to continue intravenous feeding. The Christian right has taken up the case of Terry Schiavo as a cause celeb, arguing that medical miracles cannot be discounted and that removing the feeding tube would be euthanasia -- murder.


What a stupid and tragic case in which to decide the rights of individuals to die. There's no dispute that this woman expressed a clear desire not to be a vegetable. There is also no question that is what she is today, unable to move any limbs, speak, respond, acknowledge vistors, register emotions, etc. Her husband, for God's sake, is the one who after 15 years wants to end her suffering, but her evangelist parents -- backed by the state -- want to take that decision away from him.

You know, the United States has prosecuted Christian Scientists for felonies when they refused medical care, on religious grounds, for children who needed emergency treatment. That's a classic instance of the right to life and the right to freedom of religion clashing. But it's been settled for decades that the right to life includes the right to end one's life -- at least by refusing "extraordinary measures" and imposing a "do not resusicate" requirement on doctors -- if done knowingly. That's what living wills ("advance medical directives") are all about.

Too bad that Terry Schiavo was not up-to-speed on that concept on Feb. 25, 1990, when a chemical imbalance possibly triggered by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating and cut off oxygen to her brain. She's been brain-dead ever since and is now a pawn of religious zealots trying to impose their own view of miracles on a (rightly) reluctant husband and court system.

 Posted by glenn