Monday, March 21, 2005

The moral and ethical challenge of Terri Schiavo

No matter what side of this opinion war you are one, anybody who has taken the time to thouroughly explore the issues of the Schiavo case struggle with the conflictions that arise because the details challenge our specific definitions and notions of quality of life.

Schiavo is disabled. Every day she wakes up, moves around and communicates the best that she can. She breathes on her own, her heart beats on it's own, her brain functions on it's own. Like our children, and our sick and elderly, all she needs to live is to be fed. So we feed her. Or, in some cases, we don't.

Even though she can swallow (she swallows her own saliva) her "husband" has decreed that she is not to recieve rehabilition or any foods by mouth, so the staff where she lives are forced to use a tube when it is time to give her food. This tube is at the centre of the controversy surrounding her impending death.

We are not feeding her. That's it - there aren't any "plugs" to pull - we just aren't feeding her.

Sometimes as able minded and bodied people we tend to judge quality of life too harshly, without any consideration for other ways of living. My own father would have turned up his nose at the thought of living dependantly, and yet when a stroke changed his reality his life became more precious to him than before it had been threatened. His cognitive abilities and memories were greatly disabled, and yet he was happy, every day that he woke up, just to enjoy his life. At the end of his life, when his final stroke took away all his ability to move and he could only communicate with grunts, his desire to live was still very apparent in his eyes.

I hold my breath today with the news that the President has signed the bill because Schiavo's fate still remains in the hands of a court and her feeding has yet to be resumed. Also, I feel certain that as soon as it is resumed she will again have to face yet another challenge to her right for food, and that's a tiring thought.

This really is one of the most extraordinary legal and political fights ever, but I can't help but think it is also one of the most important. Our definitions are a little mixed up and we need them to be clarified. This isn't about letting a brain dead person die, it's about killing a disabled person by denying them the most basic human rights - food and water. And it's not just about Terri, it's about all of us, because one day this could be us too.

1 comment:

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