Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Live and Let Live...

Reading the Edmonton Sun paper yesterday, I was graced with an opinion article by Mindelle Jacobs entitled "Time to let Terri Schiavo die with dignity".

What does dying with dignity entail? And who defines dignity?

Jacobs' argument, albeit an opinion piece, neglects to acknowledge any potential value in an existence alternative to her own. But it is her definition of dignity that concerns me.

Terri Schiavo lives her life in a vegetative condition and is fed through a tube. She is not on life support. Neither is Schiavo the only human to live in this state.

Jacobs has bought into the line of thinking that since Schiavo is completely vegetative she can not be actually "living". Jacobs rejects Schiavo's parents' claims that she has responded to attention over the years (even though they present video taped evidence of her laughing, smiling and even crying) dismissing them as wishful thinking on their part, or even merely "reflexes" that one might come to expect of someone with this condition.

Some doctors suggest that Schiavo has no consciousness and therefore can not actually experience these reactions or emotions. But even doctors have been known to be wrong, on occasion.

In the past we have also been told that babies can't smile, little boys feel no pain when having their foreskins removed, people in a coma don't retain memories of their comatose experience, and that people under anesthetic can't hear what is being said around them. But we have all heard instances that evidence the contrary.

We are creatures notorious for assuming we know all about something to only be surprised by different facts at a later date.

For Jacobs to suggest that Schiavo should "be allowed to die with dignity" as she is "bereft of the qualities that makes us human," is to suggest that the definition of both humanity and dignity be based on an able bodied and able minded premise. Her argument therefore suggests there is no right, or point, to life beyond that basis. What would this type of conclusion mean for the differently-abled of our world... or for that matter, how about the severely disabled? Are these people not as human as you and I?

It is true that Schiavo won't ever emerge from the physical state that her body has found itself in, but I don't know if I feel comfortable, or qualified enough, to judge whether she could be experiencing a life that is satisfying to her or not. Just because her life is different from mine doesn't mean I can't believe there is worth in it.

One thing is for sure, if she really isn't present in any form, or is unable to respond to any stimulation, then she isn't losing anything by remaining alive. And remember, it's a feeding tube, not life support. She slowly starves to death if they remove it. And then she is dead. There is no "going to a better place" as Jacobs words it.

But - if she even remotely hears her parents or visitors and knows that she is loved, even on a "primitive level" isn't that enough to suggest her life could be worth something? If she does respond, if anything at all makes her smile and laugh, might that not suggest an enjoyment of at least part of her life?

And who gets to decide?

Thankfully enough, it's not Mindelle Jacobs.

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