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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Letting Go

Thus far, we have avoided any and all commentary on the Terri Schiavo story, for several reasons. The primary reason is the most obvious one: this is an intensely personal decision that deserves better than being politicized or second-guessed by people who have nothing whatsoever to do with it -- which is to say, everyone except Terri Schiavo's husband and parents.

But politicized and second-guessed is exactly what's happened here; indeed, Congress (never missing a good chance to score in political opportunism) has resorted to unprecedented measures to intervene in this case, trumpeting moral principle the entire time. Head House rat Tom DeLay has found a cause to distract from his seemingly endless ethical lapses.

"We are confident this compromise addresses everyone's concerns," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has taken the lead in championing the parents' cause.

"We are confident it will provide Mrs. Schiavo a clear and appropriate avenue for appeal in federal court, and most importantly, we are confident this compromise will restore nutrition and hydration to Mrs. Schiavo as long as that appeal endures."


"Man On Dog" Santorum and "Cat Killer" Frist have also made a point of rapidly and publicly seizing the moral high ground on this, which should send some sort of signal to most sentient beings.

Personally (and we stress that word), this is a no-brainer. We are big on "quality of life" ideals, and this is infinitely bigger than, say, lopping off a hand or losing an eye. This is an inability to do anything besides draw breath, so we go by the Golden Rule here -- we wouldn't want to live like that, not for a second. Certainly not for fifteen years.

But it's impossible not empathize with the Schindlers, Terri Schiavo's parents. They are experiencing every parent's worst nightmare, the prospect of burying their child, and they've had to face it in as slow and torturous a fashion as one could conceive. Whatever one's opinion here, it is unfair to second-guess the Schindlers' feelings and actions in this, though we still reach the ineluctable conclusion that they are not doing their daughter any favors here. There is more to life than inhalation and photosensitivity, so much more. But still.

So we have nothing but sympathy for both the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo, as well as for Terri Schiavo herself, of course. But we have nothing but sheer contempt for the public prayer circles that have clung to this tragedy like barnacles. The prayer part is fine -- any honest atheist will at least acknowledge that it can't hurt -- it's the public part that we find off-putting. They are determined to make spectacles of themselves the way that only true cultists can. One man apparently hauled a cross to the hospice where Terri Schiavo languishes in a vegetative state. Unfortunately, he did not take the extra step of nailing himself to it and starving to death while crows ate his eyes. Still, one can hope.

Such politicized public jackassery (yes, it's a word, trust me) should not go unslapped, not only for its obnoxious nature, but for its selfishness. Yes, you heard us right. If these people really wanted to help and create a net positive in the world, they'd go into the hospice and ask to volunteer to, say, read to conscious cancer or AIDS patients. There are other people in this world besides Terri Schiavo who are en route to their maker, faster than they or their families would like; many of them, unlike Ms. Schiavo, are conscious of their doom. Perhaps a helping hand would ease their passage. Forgive an awful pun, but we are dead serious here.

But no, it's easier to make a spectacle of oneself, to sanctimoniously assert one's moral superiority in as public and tawdry a manner as possible. As our friends down under might say, good on ya, mate. Nicely done.

Now, coincidentally or not, here is an article from the Houston Chronicle that may point to just a teensy bit of moral inconsistency.

A patient's inability to pay for medical care combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support, the chief medical officer at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital said Monday.

Dr. David Pate's comments came as the family of Spiro Nikolouzos fights to keep St. Luke's from turning off the ventilator and artificial feedings keeping the 68-year-old grandfather alive.


Monetary concerns don't arise in the Schiavo case because her care is paid for by her settlement (which, incidentally, was the result of a suit presuming that Ms. Schiavo's gynecologist should have known that Schiavo's eating disorders had created the dangerous mineral imbalance which triggered the heart attack that put her in her current state). But poor Mr. Nikolouzos hasn't that fiscal luxury, so this hospital in Texas, empowered by a law signed by then-Governor George W. Bush, has the legal right to pull the plug on him.

Again, personally, while we understand and sympathize the pain which the Schindlers and Nikolouzoses are going through, we feel that there is a point, tragic as it is, where you just have to let go, when the corporeal shell has become moribund, and the loved one's consciousness (or soul, if you prefer) is no longer there, no longer operable. Of course it is a difficult decision; that goes without saying. And reasonable people will have to agree to disagree as to whether it is the correct decision for a given family at a particular time. Decisions do not get much more subjective than that, which is why it's impossibly hard to attempt to wrap it all in the fineries of putatively sensible legislation.

In the meantime, you can just about set all the irony here to music, as the Schindlers have their personal tragedy paraded around by sanctimonious politicos who would just as soon ignore the health-care penury of the family of Spiro Nikolouzos.

[via Atrios]

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