Human Exceptionalism

Eluana Englaro: Dehydration Begins

When the President of Italy refused to sign a decree delaying the dehydration death of Eluana Englaro–who some call the Italian Terri Schiavo–it seemed to seal her doom. But now the Prime Minister has moved up an emergency session of the Parliament.

We’ll see how that plays out. But the point of this post is the attempt, yet again, to make death by dehydration seem benign. From the story:

Doctors quoted in the leading daily Corriere della Sera said the process leading to Englaro’s death would become irreversible within five days. Englaro, now 38, has been in a coma for 17 years as a result of a traffic accident. Her family lawyer Giuseppe Campeis told Corriere: “We are continuing with our (medical) procedure” aimed at ensuring a “gentle death.”

It always fries me when they call dying by dehydration a “gentle death.” It reminds of of when Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, told reporters when she was on the verge of dehydration:

Frankly when I saw her . . . she looked beautiful…In all the years I’ve seen Mrs. Schiavo, I’ve never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her.

Then Terri’s anguished brother Bobby Schindler told the world blood was pooling in his sister’s eyes because her tissues were so dry.

The public is always kept from seeing these deaths in the name of patient privacy. But this is how the late Dr. Ronald Cranford–an enthusiastic supporter of dehydration, who testified in support of ending the lives of Nancy Cruzan, Michael Martin, and Terri Schiavo, among others–described the process in sworn testimony in support of dehydrating Robert Wendland, (as quoted from the trial transcript in my book Culture of Death):

After seven to nine days [from commencing dehydration] they begin to lose all fluids in the body, a lot of fluids in the body. And their blood pressure starts to go down.

When their blood pressure goes down, their heart rate up…Their respiration may increase and then the patient experiences what’s called a mammalian’s diver’s reflex where the blood is shunted to the central part of the body from the periphery of the body. So, that usually two to three days prior to death, sometimes four days, the hands and the feet become extremely cold. They become mottled. That is you look at the hands and they have a bluish appearance.

And the mouth dries a great deal, and the eyes dry a great deal and other parts of the body become mottled. And that is because the blood is now so low in the system it’s shunted to the heart and other visceral organs and away from the periphery of the body

A pro life neurologist named William Burke, who opposes dehydration, told me about what happens when patients are dehydrated (again, from COD):

They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the dryness of the mucus membranes and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining

(Hit this link for a longer article on this topic that I wrote for the Weekly Standard.)

One thing is sure: No one can say anymore, “I didn’t know.”

Important note: The above quotes refer specifically and only to people who are not otherwise terminally ill and are dying from being intentionally deprived of sustenance due to cognitive disabilities. They do not apply to the situation in which a patient is dying naturally and the body is shutting down as part of the dying process, at which point people often stop eating and drinking. In those cases providing tube-supplied sustance can be medically inappropriate and cause unncessary suffering.


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