Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Terri Schiavo: Back From The Dead (Briefly)

The remnants of the national right-to-die debate spurred on by the Terri Schiavo case came to a close today. The autopsy was released by Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin, and there were few surprises. These included:
  • there was no conclusive proof Ms. Shiavo had a heart attack in 1990 (which was what was suspected as causing her massive brain damage in the first place);
  • there was no proof that she had an eating disorder;
  • there was no evidence of any trauma, including strangulation or abuse, that led to her condition (as suggested by her parents vis-a-vis Michael Schiavo);
  • she was blind (the "vision centers of her brain were dead").
Of the non-surprises, Mr. Thogmartin concluded the following: "Her brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain," he said. "This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons." So no amount of bluster, pleading or smokescreen would have changed her fate, despite the attempt at swaying those among us who were skeptical of what today's findings demonstrate with cold, scientific fact.

Anyone who scolded his or her friend, neighbor or stranger against allowing this woman -- with half a brain, no real human function, no ability to think or to reason, living in literal and figurative darkness -- to die ought to be ashamed of him- or herself. This case was a sad example of several things. It highlighted our penchant for mercy and for compassion, on both sides of the issue. Even the misguided, uninformed among us, led by Ms. Schiavo's parents, Bob & Mary Schindler, only wanted to do -- in theory -- the right thing vis-a-vis Ms. Schiavo. However, it seems implausible that intelligent, educated people, with scientific data and fact behind them, would continually try to keep a woman who had no cognitive brain function and no vision a prisoner on this planet in her own immobile, prone body.

It seems to me, along with many others, that this chasm was already open and exposed; it was merely magnified on an international scale by this matter. And the battle line, if you will, was drawn on faith vs. science. Without diving back into the murky pool of the debate, I am still a bit shocked that people in the modern world -- replete with blood transfusions, transplants, artificial hearts and robotic limbs -- would be so willing to accept modern medical intervention to save a life but so quick to thump a bible against showing mercy in ending another. It appears that those people who worship the document (whether the bible, or the Constitution, or Tom Cruise's copy of L. Ron Hubbard's most recent summary of Scientology) need to take a step back and begin using their minds to think rather than their hearts. The brain, as is noted (in scientific journals, textbooks and other legitimately-accepted bastions of fact) features two hemispheres; a creative side and a rational side. Assuming each of these is functioning properly (not necessarily efficiently or effectively), it's up to each human being to weigh these types of matters and discern which option is the better choice. It's very easy to paint a wide brushstroke and suggest that allowing another human being to die is never the right choice. However, I know several people who suffered greatly with diseases who would have preferred to end their lives prematurely. Taking the life of a criminal who arbitrarily murders, rapes and mistreats his fellow human beings (if he can even be regarded as human) is not unjust; and neither is ending the suffering of someone whose existence is so empty, vapid, bleak and meaningless that he or she cannot even ponder the question of life and death.

Anyone who felt it their duty to chastise others in their desire to allow this woman mercy when her parents were unwilling to do so has some soul-searching to do. Although the sad irony of this entire debate, and today's expected conclusion thereto, is that most of the people who pushed to keep Ms. Schiavo's body "alive" will regard today's news, scientific or otherwise, as meaningless, and instead spend another hour in a church, temple or mosque; and more importantly, they will demonstrate by their unwillingness to see the whole picture that they will spend the remainder of their lives in their own world.

And if the above was unclear, then hopefully this will suffice: if you were among the people who pleaded and prayed to save Ms. Schiavo's life, foisted your opinion on those of us who thought Ms. Shiavo should be allowed to retain her dignity and be allowed to die, and decried politicians who obeyed the Constitution instead of your outmoded, anqituated beliefs in the Bible, then perhaps I can be the first one to tell you: shut the fuck up, mind your own god-damned business, and perpetuate the hypocrisy you call a life in the Bible Belt -- quietly. Lest ye be smote -- toot sweet.

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