Saturday, March 26, 2005

Thoughts on Terri Schiavo

Some thoughts on the Terri Schiavo case - My own father went through the same thing - and it is a difficult, deeply personal and tragic experience. This issue goes well beyond the 'black and white' moralism many so-called 'conservatives' would have us believe. I was attending services last night - I attend a reform Jewish temple - and the rabbi opened up the sermon to a discussion between everyone in the room about end-of-life issues and what set of "morals" or "rules" should govern them.
It was the perfect revelation of why this issue is difficult -- we read what must have been at least a dozen differing opinions from authoritative figures, not one of them in total agreement. Each person in the room had his or her own opinion as to the weight religious and secular law should govern versus family preference. However, a key point emerged - personal preferences without a moral framework become arbitrary and meaningless, while solely relying on an imposed moral framework (religious or secular) may cause deep pain, discomfort and tragedy for a family, and may go against the wishes of the patient. Consider the 1999 law in Texas passed by then Gov. Bush, or an imposition of "religious certainty" that Ms. Schiavo would want to be alive based on Catholic teachings. So in my view this 'culture of life' thing is a bunch of hypocritical crap, especially when our government doesn't seem to give a whit about the people who aren't dying and don't have health care, or those pols who would prohibit abortions without providing some recognition and support to the women and children whose lives may be in utter chaos, or who are willing to kill convicted prisoners in an environment where dozens of innocent inmates have been freed from death rows.
My own experience consisted of my conscious, acutely-aware father being fed through a feeding tube for years, while otherwise in an incapacitated state similar to Ms. Schiavo. Whose decision was it to leave the tube in? Should that be the government's? Or our family's? Certainly if we were in Texas he may have been forced to die, and we didn't want that and neither did he. This was a pretty clear-cut decision for us.
However -- near the end of his life, still conscious -- he had suffered through repeated, severe bouts of pneumonia in an extremely short time (e.g. month after month). At some point, the antibiotics were not going to work anymore, and in fact had already lost most of their effectiveness. When is the right time to say stop the drugs? Well, we didn't have to make that decision because he died of something else -- but I can tell you I sure wouldn't have wanted George W. Bush or Bill Frist, M.D. making that decision for our family.
It is reprehensible that politicians who know absolutely nothing about this family's tragedy claim to know what the "correct" moral answer is. The vilification of Michael Schiavo is unbelievably cruel; at the same time, I find anyone who doesn't understand Ms. Schiavo's parents pain and willingness to grasp for any hope lacks some degree of understanding and empathy about such a tragedy. It is my hope that highlighting this tragedy will finally shed light on the crassness of trying to legislate 'family values' -- this affects everyone, no matter race, gender or creed.

1 comment:

Urbanpink said...

You have profound and beautiful thoughts. I love you.