Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Terri Schiavo

I think it was about a year ago that I received an email about Terri Schiavo. Initially it didn't jump out to me as a crucial problem. It appeared to me that some family was trying to keep their daughter alive who was essentially a vegetable. Since then I have learned a lot more about this precious woman. First of all, I do not think she is in a "persistent vegetative state" as has been widely reported. According to Florida law you have to have "the absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior and an inability to communicate or interact purposefully" to be in a "persistent vegetative state". Neither of those statements appears to apply to Terri. She laughs, cries and has even been annoyed with caretakers. She vocalizes around her family and tries to communicate with them. This woman is severely disabled but she is still a living person who is not a vegetable.

How did she become brain-damaged? News organizations have falsely reported as fact that she had an eating disorder and that is what caused her collapse. My own local newspaper has stated this in at least 3 articles. The truth is that what caused her collapse is still unknown. Her attending physician "HYPOTHESIZED that low blood potassium MAY have caused her collapse". But when her ER records were reviewed in a court case 3 years ago it showed that when she was admitted she had a "rigid neck". A Doctor testified that "the only other patient he treated with similar injuries was the victim of an attempted strangulation". Also, a bone scan revealed that she had broken bones and that she had a "history of trauma". Unfortunately since her family didn't learn any of this until 2002 it was too late for an investigation. The statute of limitations was up. So we are left with many unanswered questions. But her husband's further behavior does nothing to alleviate suspicions but only raises them higher. After winning a lawsuit where he said he "wanted to take care of his wife" he pulled her out of the rehabilitation center and put her in a nursing home. Before that she had been making progress but now it has been over 12 years since she has received therapy. If he didn't want to care for her anymore he could divorce her and let her parents take care of her. He has a live-in girlfriend and 2 children so he has obviously moved on. Why this obsession with letting her die? Why come up with this claim in recent years that she had said she didn't want to be kept alive artificially? What woman in her 20's talks about whether she wants to be kept alive artificially? Brain damaged people do make progress with therapy and in a recent case we saw a woman talk after 19 years. A friend of mine has a relative who is severely disabled. She has made progress and has gone from being on a feeding tube to eating without it and even being able to order her own food at a restaurant. It breaks my heart to think of the progress that Terri possibly could have made these past 12 years if she had received therapy and better care that has been denied her at her husband's orders.

I have several concerns when it comes to this case. First of all why in all these years was her husband not removed as her guardian? Second, if Terri is allowed to be starved to death it will be a very sad day in many ways. Not only will it be devastating to Terri's family and friends but it will make a very sad statement about our society. Is it okay to allow a severely disabled woman to be starved to death? She may be disabled but she still feels pain. Dehydration is a very painful way to die. We don't even let animals starve to death but yet somehow this is going to be okay? Third, Judge Greer is a perfect example of what is wrong with our justice system. We are having a crisis in this country when it comes to bad judges and legislating from the bench. He has ignored Florida law in many of his decisions and it seems that he is determined to allow Terri to starve to death. I pray that "right" will prevail in this case. I pray that Terri will live. I pray that Terri's parents will be allowed to care for her. And most of all I pray that the eyes of the American people will be opened to the value of ALL human life.

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