Let’s talk life and death. Most specifically, the life and impending death of Terri Schiavo. Here are the facts, as I know them, and what I think about them.
Fifteen years ago, Terri Schiavo collapsed and her heart stopped, shutting off oxygen to her brain, leaving her severely and permanently brain damaged. Her husband filed a malpractice suit, which resulted in a one-million-plus dollar settlement. The suit was settled in 1992, approximately two years after Terri collapsed.
After receiving the settlement, Michael Schiavo began to claim that Terri had expressed wishes that her life not be sustained by outrageous measures.
Terri did not have a living will at the time of her collapse, so only two people know with absolute certainty whether Terri did truly express those wishes: Michael and Terri Schiavo.
I am disinclined to believe what Michael says. After all, why wait two years to declare his wife’s wishes? Why, if his chief interest was Terri’s desire, wait until after receiving the settlement money? Why insist on retaining the obligation of being Terri’s guardian when he has started another life with another woman?
That is where my difficulty with this case lies. For the past 10 years, Michael Schiavo has lived with another woman and has fathered two children by her. He remains legally married to Terri.
He will not grant a divorce (he is the only party with the authority to do so), despite the fact that his parents-in-law have offered to take care of Terri at their own expense, leaving him with the remaining lawsuit money.
It could well be that he is acting out of interest for his wife. But how much interest can he claim to have after spending a decade with another woman?
I would also be interested in knowing what exactly this “other woman” thinks of this whole situation. Is she OK with the fact that she is living and having children by a married man? Does she not feel any moral obligation whatsoever to Terri, even though Terri can no longer act as a wife?
If I were this woman, I would be disgusted with Michael Schiavo. As it is, I am disgusted by him.
Some experts say that Terri is a vegetable, she is in a “persistent vegetative state”. However, according to the Schindler’s, she is awake and aware. She can’t express herself in the way that most of us can, but being unable to express one’s self is not equivalent to being brain dead.
A child with autism cannot always express himself, but no one considers him brain dead. A quadriplegic cannot generally attend to her needs, but that does not mean her life is meaningless.
Removing Terri’s feeding tube is a death sentence. And not a quick one. Starvation and dehydration are prolonged, painful ways to die. It will take roughly two weeks for Terri to finally die. This is not the same as removing a comatose patient from a ventilator. Doing that all but guarantees death within a few minutes.
Terri’s death will be painful, not only for her, but also for her family and friends. She will suffer for 14 days or more. What thoughts will be running through her head as she slowly withers away?
I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of anyone involved in this situation. Would you?