There was an honest, forthright case for ending the life of Terri Schiavo. It was that her life no longer had any value, for herself or others, and that ending it–the quicker the better–would spare everyone misery. We disagree with that view, holding it wiser to stick with the Judeo-Christian tradition on the sanctity of innocent life. But the people who made this case deserve some credit for straightforwardness.
But while the public may have agreed with the removal of Schiavo’s feeding and hydration tube, apparently there are limits to the public’s willingness to tolerate euthanasia–and apparently its defenders recognized these limits. So we saw euphemism after euphemism deployed to cloud the issues.
Perhaps chief among these was the fiction that we were “letting her die.” On March 18, Schiavo was in no medical danger of death. She was profoundly brain-damaged (although just how profoundly remains unknown), but she was not in a coma or on a respirator. She was not being kept alive by artificial means, any more than small children are kept alive by artificial means when their parents feed them. Her body was functioning, there is some reason to believe she was minimally conscious, and she was responsive to stimuli (it’s been reported she was actually being administered pain medication). She had devoted parents and siblings who were willing to care for her. She could easily have gone on in these conditions for many years. She was not close to dying. For death to arrive, she would have to be killed.
And for that to happen, the use of words like “starvation” and “dehydration” would have to be discouraged. Those words might, after all, have reminded us that what was done to Schiavo would be criminal if done to an animal and provoke cries of “torture” and “cruel and unusual punishment” if done to a convicted capital murderer. And “killed,” of course, was totally verboten. Schiavo was being “removed from life support,” not denied basic sustenance. The phrase “persistent vegetative state” had to be repeated constantly–never mind that basic tests were never performed to establish this diagnosis, and such diagnoses have a very high error rate–and treated as though it meant “brain death.”
We were told that her “choice to die” was being “honored,” although the evidence that she had, at age 26, given any considered thought to her own mortality and potential incapacity was thin and highly suspect–its lone source being a husband who incongruously proclaimed his solemn fidelity to this purported wish of Terri even as he started up a new family, denied Terri basic care, and insisted on denying her heartbroken parents their desire to care for their child.
The charade here was not performed to protect Terri Schiavo’s dignity but to increase the public’s comfort with the devaluation of life. So it was that Michael Schiavo’s lawyer, the euthanasia enthusiast George Felos, sketched for the media (which was naturally not permitted to observe Terri’s deteriorating condition) a rosy portrait of Terri’s extremis: radiantly beautiful, soothed by soft music and the comfort of a stuffed animal.
it will be easier.
It always is.”
The scene, of course, was not set for her. By Felos’s account, she was just an insensate, post-human corpse, for whom such tender touches were irrelevant–the comforts that would have made a difference, food and water, having been mercilessly denied. This was theater for the American people.
Why not kill Mrs. Schiavo quickly and efficiently, by depriving her of air to breathe? In principle, that would have been no different from denying her the other basic necessities of life. Why not give her a lethal injection? The law would not have allowed those methods; but the reason nobody advocated them was that they would have been too obviously murder. So the court-ordered killing was carried out slowly, incrementally, over days and weeks, with soft music, stuffed animals, and euphonious slogans about choice and dignity and radiance. By the time it ended, no one really remembered how many days and hours it had gone on. The nation accepted it, national polls supported it, and we all moved on to other things.
Next time it will be easier. It always is. The tolerance of early-term abortion made it possible to tolerate partial-birth abortion, and to give advanced thinkers a hearing when they advocate outright infanticide. Letting the courts decide such life-and-death issues made it possible for us to let them decide others, made it seem somehow wrong for anyone to stand in their way. Now they are helping to snuff out the minimally conscious. Who’s next?