Life, or Something Like It


I haven't followed the case of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman recently put back on feeding tubes by an eleventh hour intervention on the part of Florida's legislature, as closely as some have. But like plenty of folks in the media, I've been spammed with a few dozen e-mails daily, ranging in tone from mildly hysterical to totally bughouse. And while I don't have enough information to really judge the case on the merits, I can't help but think that an ideologically driven campaign based on a spate of one-sided emails and talk radio rants probably provides less sound basis for a decision than the multi-year process of evidentiary review undertaken by several courts. That aside, it's surely grotesque that the law makes an ultimately spurious distinction between "killing" and "allowing to die" in cases like these, such that slow starvation is the only acceptable means of death here.

NEXT: Mayor Mike's Panopticon

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  1. Of course this comes down to how other people feel about it. When a body is still functioning, but there is no “there” there, it is normal and natural to be horrified at seeing one’s loved one like that. And, when one knows that said loved one would not want to be maintained like that, it is also normal, and moral, to end this state.

    In bygone eras, until very recently, people like Terry Schiavo would have died long ago from their disease or injuries. That we can now hook her up to myriad machines that bypass her destroyed brain and keep her body going is not anything I would include in what I otherwise regard as a tremendous benefit of modern technology, namely, enhanced health and greater longevity. There is a downside, tho, and the Schiavo episode demonstrates it.

    Of course people have strong feelings about whether a loved one should be maintained in such a “life.” I have strong feelings about MYSELF ever being so maintained, and have made very sure those who will make decisions for and about me, should such circumstances arise, have the authority to prevent that from happening to me. Not surprising, then, that I’d have similar feelings about them.

  2. There is just too much doubt in this case to let a human being starve to death. The now-with-another-woman husband swears that his vegetative wife wanted a living will. The grieving parents say “not so” and promise to take care of her.

    When in doubt, the state should not permit the killing via starvation of a human being.

    Too much doubt to let a human being die a particularly rough death so that the husband can peacably move on.

    He should simply divorce her, let those who love her take care of her, and move on.

    The state should never permit a killing of a spouse because another spouse (with a remarkable incentive to kill original spouse off) gives a “Scout’s Honour” that original spouse wanted to die via starvation.

    In my world, libertarianism should not be about killing people but, rather, about preserving the right to life.

  3. Sometimes I think the word “life” has some kind of hypnotic allure. In this situation, I see no good reason that somehow the default position should be to keep this poor woman alive so that she can lie in bed staring at the ceiling for another forty years. If there had to be a “default” I’d think it would be the opposite; what’s valuable in “life” is thinking and acting, not a pumping heart and a churning stomach. Those who obsess over the latter when the former have gone strike me as akin to the folks who’d amend the bill of rights to protect the flag. Anyway, fortunately, we don’t need a “default” here… we have rules of guardianship. The idea that they can be preempted even after a prolonged court struggle by executive fiat is unsettling in the extreme.

  4. Language creates culture. That’s one reason we might want to shy away from terms like “persistent vegetative state” or (nice, nice) “vegetable wife.”

    She’s not a rutabaga.

  5. “what’s valuable in “life” is thinking and acting, not a pumping heart and a churning stomach.”

    That is just your opinion. And neither you nor a judge nor her husband owns this women. Some people would consider life as a retarded person not worth living. I wouldn’t want those that think that deciding for me if I happened to be retarded.

    Libertarianism 101 dude, she owns herself and since it isn’t completely clear she is brain-dead, there is still a chance she has a life — and it should be respected instead of simply murdering it.

    If she had left explicit instructions it would be a different matter, but it is pretty sick for the state to decide without clear instructions or a clear indication of brain-death that her will is to die.

  6. Eve, would more examples be “death tax” and “partial birth abortion?”

    Anyway, you are right. Her state can be summed up as “artificial life.”

  7. This is one of those cases where the devil is in the details. I think most of those people here could agree on some of the principles that should govern how this is handled. But the details determine how to act on those principles.

    e.g. We could all agree that if a person doesn’t want to be kept on a feeding tube then she shouldn’t be on it. Freedom of choice. But we don’t know how the details of how it was determined that this is her wish (or at least her wish as of the last time she was competent to make her wishes known).

    We could all agree that if the husband is doing this solely for financial gain then he has a conflict of interest (i.e. his interests are opposed to her best interests) and the power to make decisions for her (somebody has to do it as long as she’s unconscious, absent a living will) should pass to other relatives. But we don’t know him well enough to know his motives. He could be a cold guy who only cares about himself. Or he could be a guy who long ago accepted that his wife will never return to consciousness and has already mourned, and the money is irrelevant to him. Until we know whether he cares about the best interests of his wife we have no way of knowing whether he should be empowered to make decisions for her, or whether that authority should be vested in somebody else (e.g. her parents).

    So I think it’s ill-advised to try and draw firm conclusions on this case, because the devil is in the details.

    But if he’s truly a guy who mourned a long time ago and wants to move on, I think the obvious solution would be to get a divorce. He can mark the formal end of his marriage, which he long ago concluded was over and mourned over, and move on. Her parents can take responsibility for her and keep her alive.

    I have no idea if that’s legally feasible, but it seems like the most pragmatic approach.

  8. “That is just your opinion. And neither you nor a judge nor her husband owns this women.”

    Well, that’s just begging the question, isn’t it? You’re making your own presumption that if there’s “a chance she has a life” other people should make the decision to sustain it.

  9. schmoe – since we don’t know what her wishes were, one can run in the opposite direction and say it’s equally sick – if not moreso, seeing the government’s fixation on forcing people to endure pain – to allow her to continue in this state.

    i don’t think calling her state vegetative is an insult or a diminishment of who she was – but it’s certainly an accurate description of her current condition.

    maybe i just have more sympathy for the husband than i do the family, since their actions strike me as cruel as demeaning to her life as it was.

  10. “But if he’s truly a guy who mourned a long time ago and wants to move on, I think the obvious solution would be to get a divorce.”

    Undying love is just not that easy. If she expressed wishes in confidentiality of their marriage, and he loves her, then I am sure he wouldn’t rest easy until her wishes were honored. Because she is in this state and he is ready to move on, it doesn’t mean his love for her has also ended. Love is not like a faucet that one can simply turn on and off. Besides, a divorce dishonors his love for her more than fulfilling her requests. If that doesn’t mean anything to anyone, than humanity has been lost in this world!

  11. >>You’re making your own presumption that if there’s “a chance she has a life” other people should make the decision to sustain it.

    It would seem inhuman to presume otherwise.

  12. JSM-

    I see your point. He could be ready to move on, but at the same time truly believe that the most loving thing to do is to end her suffering (or at least what he perceives to be her suffering). So he won’t move on until he discharges that last duty.

    But if it proves to be legally impossible for him to do that (as the FL legislature apparently did) then he may have to accept that there are some things he cannot change. I know it’s not easy to do. Right now my wife and I are dealing with the sad situation of a schizophrenic relative who won’t accept medical help. And sometimes the only way to stay sane is to accept that you have done everything you can to help this loved one, and move on to the other situations in your life where you can make a difference.

    If the law and his wife’s family are immovable barriers, in time he might find that the only way to keep his sanity is to accept that he has done everything possible, and legally end his involvement with this so he can move on to other loved ones (e.g. the woman he’s apparently hoping to marry when this is over). I know it isn’t easy, but my point is that I wasn’t being cold-blooded when I suggested a divorce. I’ve seen in plenty of cases how hard it is to wash your hands of a situation, but I’ve also seen that when there is nothing more that can be done the most compassionate advice is to move on.

    (And all of this is predicated on the assumption that his only interest is ending his wife’s suffering since he long ago accepted that she was beyond hope of recovery. If he’s in fact cold or selfish then my comments don’t apply, obviously.)

  13. Libertarianism 202. Who’s paying for it? Sure, she owns herself, and therefore is responsible for herself. If she cannot pay for her own existence she becomes a burden to someone. Can the parents afford to keep her alive indefinately? Can the husband, assuming he wanted to, afford it? If the answer is that there is nobody willing to or financially capable of supporting this woman’s life, then clearly she is a burden on the public. Do her parents have the right to force me to pay for her life? Does the government?

    As a libertarian, I think not.

  14. Wow…a lot of reasoned, well-researched, analysis. You realize of course that none of you can ever have a future in talk radio…

  15. JSM,

    The douchebag husband has already fathered a child on another woman. If that doesn’t “dishonor his love” for his wife, I don’t know what does.

  16. “Sometimes I think the word “life” has some kind of hypnotic allure” — Julian Sanchez

    Only God can decide who is fit to live and die. He gives life and he takes it away. This is the christian ethos and it’s the driving force behind the commentary of pundits like William Bennett and Sean Hannity. The conservative view on abortion, suicide and euthanasia are all governed by that same principle. It’s also the reason why giving the poor woman a shot to ease her pain is against the law. Instead the parents and husband have to watch her slowly starve to death.

  17. Way to get lost in the tabloid details gang. All your nattering on about whether the husband is worthy to make these decisions is based on very poor quality information.

    The only real question here is, who should decide? The patient can’t; she is, at best, noncommunicative. She apparently did not leave a power of attorney or a living will.

    So, we have to appoint someone to decide for her. As between the volunteers (her husband and her parents), a court chose her husband after getting much better quality information than any of us have. Fine, we can argue with the court’s decision, but I so far I don’t see any alternatives to having a court appoint someone as a surrogate decisionmaker.

    My question is, what business does the State of Florida have stepping in and displacing a legally appointed surrogate decisionmaker? Is this a precedent that we really think is a good idea? Is anyone happy with the precedent this sets, because, among other things, it opens the door to the State stepping in to take control of your healthcare when you are sick.

  18. his wife’s been essentially dead for 13 years – unless one ascribes to the view that the meat is what makes us who we are and not the “person” who lives in the flesh. i don’t see how continuing to live dishonor’s one’s spouse, unless he was supposed to fast unto death or something like that.

    suffering for the sake of suffering is fucktarded. if one actually believes god decides who lives and dies, then god’s responsible not only for those pesky abortions but for the doctors who are leaving this poor woman hooked up to the machines which are preventing her god-chosen fate. of course, it’s entirely possible that god wanted her to suffer, or her husband to suffer, or her family to suffer, in which case…etc etc etc.

    at least i think we can all agree jeb bush has no place in this matter whatsoever. whomever invited him to the party should be kicked.

  19. What if the husband shot her in the face with a .44 magnum. Or the judge simply smashed her head in with a baseball bat. Or a random person cuts her throat. Same shit as starvation, probably quicker.

    Would it still be murder? After all, she is just a piece of meat, right? And would it be wrong for Jebbie to stop such an action? After all, it would save taxpayers money and stop governemtn control of your health care.

    Those that are so sure and self-rightous about ending this person’s life better not get squeemish about my questions.

  20. From a medical perspective, there are no credible methods for recovery for this woman. I think the parents claim that they want her go through some therapy; of course there are no proven therapies for this woman’s condition.

    I think this is a classic example of the parents feeling either guilty or otherwise serving some other interest than that of their daughter.

  21. I think its also obvious that the radical right to life nutjobs have seized on this issue, and to be frank, don’t give a rat’s ass about the woman.

  22. Apparently this case is taking an even uglier turn, as now the husband, as appointed guardian, is allegedly not allowing his wife’s family in to see her (news via Yahoo). His revenge for keeping her alive over his wishes?

  23. Tom from TX,

    Why does that make him a douchebag? If his wife is in a coma that he reasonably believes she will never come out of, why can’t he see “another” woman, even have kids with her? If you think that’s wrong, don’t do it. But don’t condemn the guy for it. If I was in a 13-year coma, I’d hope to hell my wife would feel OK with dating again. Or getting married, or whatever.

    dhex asks, “how’d the gov’t get involved?” Simple — we aren’t 100% sure what this woman’s wishes are. Her husband (who I think would ordinarily be allowed to speak for her) says she would want to die. Her parents say she would want to live. The government is trying to settle this dispute. Would you prefer they have a duel? Or have the husband run into the room and pull her feeding tube, then have the parents run in and put it back?

    This is such a great example of why we should all PUT IT IN WRITING.

  24. And, my comments on tabloid details notwithstanding, I gotta say R.C. Dean is right on.

  25. Watch it, Jean Bart, or someone might bring up all those overheated (and dead) French senior citizens from the summer past.

    Hey, maybe we could just adopt the French model, and clear out of town on vacation for a month.

    “Did you check and see if the power was on at Grandpa’s before we left?”

    “I thought you were going to check it…”

  26. I’m going to speak some heresy:

    There are some situations in life where distinct libertarian ideals actually come into conflict and it’s impossible to derive an answer from simple postulates.

    (pause for rotten tomatoes)

    The simple fact is that there may not be a right answer in this case. If she had left a living will then it would be easy to decide what to do.

    But she didn’t. She didn’t leave behind any instructions about her choices and desires. She may have expressed her desires verbally to her husband and/or relatives, but there’s nothing concrete and unambiguous in writing. So no matter what happens a perfectly good principle will have to be violated, because her situation will be decided by somebody other than herself.

    If her husband is allowed to terminate her life by starvation then he is deciding when another person lives or dies. That should give all of us pause.

    If her relatives are allowed to keep her alive, then it is arguable that her suffering will be prolonged, and that her husband will lose the power of attorney customarily vested in spouses when they make their solemn vows to each other. That should give us pause.

    If Jeb Bush gets to intervene, then the state is getting involved in a private medical decision. That should give us all pause.

    And even if Jeb Bush stays out of it, the state will still inevitably be involved in some way. There are 3 parties (parents, husband, and now governor) with claims that may have some basis in law. When multiple entities claim something, inevitably a judge has to sort it out. That’s what judges do. When people can’t agree on who has the right to make an important decision, especially one of life or death, they turn to a judge. So there will be government involvement.

    And although it’s instinctive to say “keep the state out of it”, most libertarians would say that the state should get involved when one person is trying to end another person’s life. Sure, this may be an exception, but when somebody tries to claim that this is such a case, the state had darn well better sign off explicitly and say “yep, this is one case where we won’t stop a person from ending another person’s life.”

    In the end, there’s no getting away from the fact that this woman’s life or death decisions will be made by neither her nor somebody whom she explicitly designated to have power of attorney. (I know, there’s a presumption that the spouse has power of attorney, hence I included the qualifier explicitly.)

    And that should give us all pause.

  27. Actually, Steve from CA, Dean’s comments are not right on.

    How often are court decisions lambasted onthis page as being wrongheaded, or just plain wrong? What then in this case makes a court’s decision (on appointment of legal guardianship) right?

    Maybe the husband and his lawyer just did a better sales job? Or no rational judge would think a “husband” would later act this way?

    The ideal situation here would have been for the husband to have divorced the wife and then gone on his way, leaving it to her parents to foot the bill and make ultimate decisions. You can stop being someone’s husband or wife with a stroke of a pen. You cannot stop being someone’s child.

    The implication of some here is that the wife is the husband’s property, to be disposed of as he sees fit.

  28. Tom From Texas,

    Except as a means to attempt to troll me, what merit do your comments have? None that I can see. To qoute your hero O’Reilly, attack the argument no the person. 🙂

  29. I laughed out loud when reading that the husband had prevented visitors. Good for him – if they want to play hard ball, I am glad to see he knows how to play the game.

    RC has it to rights – the law is (supposed to be) blind to preferences based on nonsense like religious beliefs impacting decisions. All the quotes from her family declare it a “miracle” that Jeb stepped in when, in fact, it is merely a pandering to the nutjobs.

    When one sticks to facts, they are very basic and the husband has the right to end this parade whenever he’s ready. Unfortunately, logic and the law seem to be…lacking. Or taking a licking.

  30. Tom From Texas,

    BTW, next time a group of Americans say burn alive in a crowded disco in the US like those who died in Rhode Island, I will make light of it as you have the deaths of Frenchmen. You do a great disservice to other Texans like Lance Armstrong.

  31. Jean Bart,

    Whereas the Rhode Island club fire was an isolated case of criminal neglect, the tragic deaths of thousands of French men and woman points to a systemic institutional/cultural flaw.
    No lightness was being made of the subject, and no attack was directed at you.

    And anyway, real Texans drive trucks or ride horses. They don’t ride bicycles

  32. Tom From Texas,

    And this explains the nearly thousand people who died in Chicago in 1995 from heat related events? And why the singling on France this summer? Several thousand Britons also died. The same for Italy and Germany.

    What it represents is the fact that Frenchmen are not prepared for such extreme weather; there is nothing else systematic about it.

    As to the systematic nature of disco fires in the US, it seems like EVERY YEAR we read about a fire in the US that slaughters a group of people in a disco.

    BTW, your entire reason for bringing the subject up was to insult me and to make light of the deaths of Frenchmen. Don’t play me as naive, as the subject matter had nothing to do with the conversation at hand. That you attempt to obfuscate your readily apparent motives only demonstrates your other character flaw – that you’re a liar.

    Let us hope that real Texans aren’t as dishonest as you are.

  33. No need to get into any Texas vs. France pissing contests here. I’ve known good people from both places, but for some reason people love to contrast the two in disparaging terms. Either you disagree with each other on the issues or you agree, but there’s no need to drag your places of origin into it.

  34. I just realized what this thread is missing: Monty Python references!

    Coroner: Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!

    Husband: Here’s one.

    Coroner: Nine pence.

    Jeb Bush: She’s not dead!

    Coroner: What?

    Jeb: She’s not dead!

    Coroner: She isn’t?

    Husband: She will be soon. She’s in a coma and starving.

    Coroner: I can’t take her like that. It’s against regulations.

    Husband: Look, she won’t be long, can’t you wait?

    Coroner: Naw, Halloween’s coming up and I have to get ready for the influx of teens who die doing stupid stuff.

    Jeb: She’s getting better.

    Husband: No, she’s not, those are involuntary muscle spasms.

    Jeb: I think she can go for a walk!

    Husband: Look, isn’t there something you can do?

    Jeb: She’s smiling! She feels happy! She feels happy!

    (Coroner hits Jeb over the head, accepts corpse.)

    Husband: Thanks.

    Coroner: Not at all.

  35. The precedent I take from FL’s actions is that the sanctity of marriage is meaningless as long as you conduct your marriage in accordance to the majority accepted practice. Since ending life support on spouses is not an everyday event, you have to defer this private matter to the public majority decision.

    As far as I am concerned, the state of FL just stripped away one more civil liberty as a result of religous ideaology.

    Whats the point of marriage protection laws (other than to bar gays from legal marriages) if the family can’t be left alone to make the tough decisions themselves???

  36. Was I the only one who noticed that the husband has refused to allow even attempts at rehabilitation for the last ten years, despite the fact that a court awarded him one million dollars for that very purpose, and that he has spent most of this money on lawyers so that he can kill his wife?

    I mean, what would it have cost him to divorce her and let her parents take care of her?

    A big fat insurance check….

  37. joe writes: ” What if the husband shot her in the face with a .44 magnum. Or the judge simply smashed her head in with a baseball bat. Or a random person cuts her throat. Same shit as starvation, probably quicker.”

    Not the same at all. The woman is not in this state by virtue of anyone else’s act. She is there because modern medical technology has the means to keep a body alive when, in all of previous human experience, that body would have died. The question is, is it a favor to this woman to maintain her body in this state? Whatever internal life she has — and she cannot at all communicate that or anything else to another — she is trapped in non-moving “life” of no social comprehension or interaction. There is almost no likelihood her prospects will improve and that anyone known as Terry will return. Her husband could love the Terry he knew and be appalled at maintaining her like this.

    That he has moved on, after 13 years, and fathered a child, does not mean he should abdicate all loyalty to her. (Do you really freakin’ think that you’d be celibate for 13 years if this happened to YOUR wife?) I’ve made it clear to my surviving children that the condition Terry is in would be anathema to me, and that if, after a few months the doctors say I am very unlikely to come back, they should do what Mr. Schiavo is doing. I would hope they love me enough to follow through, as agonizing as I know that would be for them.

    The courts have found Terry’s husband to be executing a proper decision for proper reasons. Due process was given and the parents’position lost. Starvation is not pretty, but neither is the artificial way she is being fed and kept “alive.” Pain meds are available, and sometimes it is right to let nature take its course without further intervention – she would have died, in most of human history, long ago, and intervention in this case is a curse. Declining modern medical technology of dubious value in a particular case is quite unlike blowing someone away with a .44 Magnum. One would think people intelligent enough to be reading H & R would see that.

  38. Gabriel and others: That the husband wion a lwsuit for her rehabilitatiin, if that happened, does not mean that doctors did not eventually decided that THAT WOMAN IS NOT COMING BACK.

    Christ, he could have had all kinds of emotions going on, and finally decided her existence like this if it is almost certainly not going to change, is contrary to her life and wishes. What is this need to demonize the man, whose wife has been utterly absent as a human being for 13 years? Who of you could watch that and not begin to wonder whether maintianing her like that was helping her? I hope none of YOU are ever in charge of HELPING me.

  39. >>Only God can decide who is fit to live and die. He gives life and he takes it away. This is the christian ethos and it’s the driving force behind the commentary of pundits like William Bennett and Sean Hannity. The conservative view on abortion, suicide and euthanasia are all governed by that same principle. It’s also the reason why giving the poor woman a shot to ease her pain is against the law. Instead the parents and husband have to watch her slowly starve to death.

  40. I think most Libertarians (most people, for that matter) would agree that euthanasia should be available as an option for those that so desire it, and that the government (in this case, the Florida legislature) has no business telling anyone who wants to end his/her life that he/she cannot do it.

    I have basically two problems with this specific situation:

    1. Based on what I’ve read, there is some doubt regarding the integrity of the husband’s intentions (he stands to get a $750k windfall from Teri’s trust fund – alas, Teri does not have a living will)

    2. In this case, the method of euthanasia strikes me as cruel and inhumane. The feeding tubes were to be removed and Teri would have starved to death over a period of 10 to 14 days. I’m not sure why euthanasia, in this case, could not be accomplished in a humane manner via injection or some other means.

  41. I’m sorry, Mona, this particular man who wants to kill his wife does not appear to be acting from loving motives.

    Why on earth wpould he deny her any attemp at rehabilitation for ten years? If I lovd my wife I would try anything to help her, but this man seems to have tried nothing.

    Again, if he loves her, but the pain of seeing her this way ios too much, all he has to do is divorce her and let those who wish to take care of her do it.

    But he has decided he will kill her and he does not care who else may love her. And he has spent the money earmarked toward the treatment of his wife to killing her. For ten years he has done this. That sets no alarm bells ringing in your head?

    As for courts, well, courts to lots of awful things all the time. Such as returning childrend to their biological parents, who subsequently kill them. A DC judge lost her seat over that. Just because a court has decided something doesn’t mean they decided justly.

    Like most of you posting on this thread, the courts appear to have decided that it’s her legal guardian’s business and washed their hands of it. If it were a child actor whose parents were squandering his money, what would you say? Exactly the same?

    One of the legitimate functions of government is to protect the lives of the innocent. This is not a cut-and-dried case of a woman who wants to die kept on life support because of archaic laws. This is about a man with obvious conflicts of interest who wishes to kill his wife, even if there are people who would gladly relieve him of the burden of taking care of her.

    If he just wants to go on with his life, he could just divorce her. I challenge you, find me one reason why this man, who so wants to be shut of his wife, can’t just divorce her and leave her to her family instead of killing her? Why isn’t that the fair solution?

  42. BTW, the Weekly Standard reports that his attorneys have sent faxes to every doctor in the area threatening to sue any doctor who hooks her back up. Yeah, that’s love. Not only does he want her dead, it has to be NOW.

  43. Brad-
    I agree that certain things about this particular case seem less than Kosher. My problem is that probably 90 percent of what we know about this case is the result of or has come from the Schindlers’ campaign. Supposedly other people testified to her wishes in cases like this… but at least a cursory Google search didn’t turn up records of who they were. So, again, we’ve got one side of the evidence. I’m not necessarily saying the courts got it right… I’m just saying I think they’re more likely to be in a position to have gotten it right than any of us.

  44. also the “husband” is engaged, and has been for quite some time

    theer is substantial questions as to whether he is really pursuing her best interest, and while it hasn’t been successfully challenged in court (likely for procedural reasons) it’s pretty obvious that he doesn’t pass the smell test required to kill his wife

    euthanasia for people with explicit living wills or who can speak for themselves.. gerat.. but for someone who doesn’t meet those standards, and who isn’t exactly a “vegetable” (she can move, respond to people, not just lying in a bed and not moving) they shouldn’t just be offed

    hard cases make bad law, which is why circumventing the legal system for this specific case is good, as it won’t create bad precedents for decent people in regular situations where assistance is erminated(i.e. someone gets hit by a bus and will never do anything but lie there but can, barely, be sustaned by a machine)

  45. “Late in the afternoon, members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrived with an ambulance that whisked Terri away to a hospital, where it was expected, her feeding tube would be reimplanted. But then, the roller coaster that has been the Schiavo case took another sickening plunge. A court hearing had been scheduled. Michael’s lawyers were requesting an immediate restraining order preventing Terri from being treated. Even though Terri’s supporters had been told the rehydration had already begun, a doctor had actually refused the job. Despite Terri’s Law, Terri remained untreated, slowly dehydrating to death.

    AT 8:30 P.M., JUDGE DOUGLAS BAIRD of the Florida Sixth Judicial Circuit began a hearing that would determine the immediate fate of Terri’s Law. Meanwhile, it became clear why doctors had refused to reconnect Terri’s feeding tube or even begin an IV line to provide her with desperately needed fluid: Deborah Bushnell, one of Michael’s lawyers, had faxed a letter to virtually every doctor in Pinellas County in which she threatened to sue any physician who reconnected Terri’s feeding tube or otherwise treated her. The chilling intent behind the letter worked. Even though Terri’s Law protected doctors from liability, the hospital felt compelled to seek legal advice.”

  46. That aside, it’s surely grotesque that the law makes an ultimately spurious distinction between “killing” and “allowing to die” in cases like these, such that slow starvation is the only acceptable means of death here.

    Seriously, why is the only option to remove her feeding tube and starve her to death? What kind of way is that to go? We treat our dogs better than that. Would you just quit feeding sparky because he couldn’t fend for himself anymore, or would you allow the vet to let him go to sleep peacefully?

    I know, I know, it brings up the whole Kevorkian thing again, but when morality (or at least the illusion of) gets in the way of being humane to others, we are letting our weakness cause others pain. It may be better PR to disconnect someone from a machine and say it was God’s will, but a truly rational person would give the patient a drug to let her go peacefully.

  47. “I think most Libertarians (most people, for that matter) would agree that euthanasia should be available as an option for those that so desire it, and that the government… has no business telling anyone who wants to end his/her life that he/she cannot do it.”

    Unfortunately, I wouldn’t count on the “most people” part. I think most people get the willies when thinking about euthanasia, and that’s generally a good enough reason for most people to outlaw something.

  48. According to what I read in this week’s Economist, the videos we see on tv are misleading. The parents think that Teri can respond to their voices, but it only happens maybe 1 out of 100 times, which doctors say is simply an involuntary reaction that is coincidental with the parents’ visit. 99% of the time, she just lays there, and doesn’t respond to anything.

  49. …and we really want doctors, with the backing of the State, deciding on who lives or dies…

  50. if nothing else it’s a reminder to make sure your living will papers are in order, just in case.

  51. “I think most Libertarians (most people, for that matter) would agree that euthanasia should be available as an option for those that so desire it, and that the government… has no business telling anyone who wants to end his/her life that he/she cannot do it.”

    The problem is that it’s not entirely clear that she wants to end her life. And there are conflicting reports about her desires regarding life-support living: the hubby says she explicitly denounced it. The parents say she explicitly embraced it.

  52. and i’m really confused by the parents in this case, regardless of the husbands’ intentions – how can they possibly regard her as viable, much less “alert and responsive?”

    though to be fair i have annoying in-laws-to-be who i could see doing something barbaric like this. maybe that’s why this case gets to me so much.

  53. …and we really want doctors, with the backing of the State, deciding on who lives or dies…

    Therein lay the rub. The event is hardly as scary as the precedent, when we begin to slowly accept that at some point we may have to forfeit our own lives under an illusion of due process, in this case no doubt motivated to allow the woman’s husband to marry his girlfriend, collect his money, and move on with his life.

  54. The basic legal structure is this (trust me, I do this for a living, although not in Florida).

    (1) Doctors are not allowed to treat someone without their informed consent. A “living will” is just an expression of the patient’s desires, intended to be used when the patient cannot express those desires himself (because he is in a coma, for example).

    (2) When the patient is incompetent to give informed consent and there is no living will or other document around to communicate their desires, another decisionmaker must be legally authorized to make decisions on their behalf. Courts can appoint guardians, or the patient can appoint a surrogate decisionmaker with a health care power of attorney.

    Some states have lists of “deemed” surrogates, such as spouse, adult child, parent, etc. I’m not sure about Florida.

    The dispute between the husband and the family is, sadly, not entirely unheard of. I suggest that, in this case, due process has been followed and husband, rightly or wrongly, has been appointed her guardian/surrogate. You can quarrel with this particular result, but the system behind it is really pretty sound.

    (3) One thing I have never seen anywhere is a grant of power to the governor to act as surrogate decisionmaker. I haven’t got the faintest idea where Jeb Bush thinks he got the legal authority to displace a legally appointed guardian/surrogate, but there he is.

    This is a truly dangerous precedent, and should be what libertarians are focussing on, because it is a genuine, and illegitimate, expansion of state power. The merits of each side of the case here have no ramifications beyond this case, but what Gov. Bush has done is new and dangerous.

  55. >According to what I read in this week’s Economist, the videos we see on tv are misleading.

  56. Based on her duration in the vegetative state requiring machines to keep her alive, I have no problem with the husbands decision and I have a big problem with non-family gov’t officials intervening in the courts orders with hastily passed legislation giving the Gov more authority over the husband. Whatever the husbands shadiness, he didn’t cause the heart attack, he held on this long, and I sympathize with his desire to do the humane thing and get on with his life. I am not sure how responsible he is for the medical costs, but I am sure that $750,000 does not come close to the actual costs of her long term health care. Futhermore, I don’t trust the spin that may have been adding to the husbands “shadiness.”

    When my grandfather was dying from emphysema, he had a bout with his lungs filling up with fluids and essentially drowning him. Tubes were inserted in his lungs so the fluid can be drained. After that, he told us to never to that to him again, he would have rather drowned on his own fluids due to the pain and constant choking feeling of those tubes. He later had another bout, we took him to the hospital in hopes of a prescribed drug to give him some peace as he laid dying. Instead, against all our wishes, they inserted tubes again. On recovery, we had to hold him down to keep him from throttling his doctor. On the third bout, we kept him home and he died drowning on his own fluids without any medication. So I agree, we treat out pets with more humane passion then we do our loved ones.

    The fate of Terry Schiavo should rest in the hands of her family and what they work out in court, not new powers given to the state to over rule family wishes.

  57. position seems to be:

    – she is costing taxpayers, just kill her

    – jeb bush shouldn’t intervene and save her life because it expands state power to save lives, the courts and doctors should just kill her to be on the safe side.

    next stop: handicapped people and other “parasites”

    1930s all over again

  58. and i’m really confused by the parents in this case, regardless of the husbands’ intentions – how can they possibly regard her as viable, much less “alert and responsive?”

    A coma is not what you see on TV, where a person stays asleep for x years and then wakes up peacefully. A doctor cannot truly determine the nature of a comatose response (voluntary vs. involuntary), because there is no means to assess the patient’s will. Rather, s/he is trained to make it seem as though the findings are objective to allow the potentially bereaved greater peace of mind. Moreover, Schiavo’s lawyer’s contention that she “had begun having an irregular heartbeat and kidney failure” is irrelevant; renal failure in this situation is common (and generally benign) and an irregular heartbeat is enjoyed by a sizeable percent of the world’s population.

    Failing that, who wants to bury their child? It is not necessary to be alert and responsive to have a right to live, and when you cannot speak on your own I’d much rather have my parents decide on my fate than my wife with her new boyfriend and impending payoff. The latter gives at worst the air of corruption and at least a conflict of interests. Not that he’s Scott Peterson, but he stands to profit too much from her death both personally and financially for him to be the right person to make that choice.

  59. how did the governor get involved in this in the first place?

  60. This case has a lot of ambiguity going for it but I agree with RC that the ability of a government official to essentially do away with the decision of a court because it didn’t match his belief system is abhorrent and a sign of what is to come.

    I don’t care if the husband stood to receive a million – I suspect that he would have preferred to have had the woman alive and safe than in a bed.

    I have also heard that the video we’ve all seen was very carefully edited and presented so I trust it not at all.

    In the end, I suppose if I were the husband that I’d have to just surrender the fight, dissolve all real and emotional connections with the family, and move on with my life. Thirteen years is penance enough for anyone.

    (Of course, I’d take a secret delight in knowing the parents will go bankrupt paying for the care and die before the daughter does.)

    Which reminds me – just who the heck is paying for that care? Wonder if it’s the state…hmmm..

  61. From what I heard on the radio from “an advisor” with the family was that the hubby had taken steps to prevent the recovery of Teri. Ending physical treatment, choosing food tube over spoon fed, etc. But I’m gonna have to trust that the court has spent more time on this than I have/will.

    But in regard to RC’s comments, isn’t this the point of checks and balances? If the court’s role is merely to interpret law and the legislation doesn’t like an interpretation, they can just change the law to be explicit. Easier said than done, but it prevents the judiciary from creating law, which is not their role. I would however agree that it’s not good practice to create law to accomedate a solitary case.

  62. “Not that he’s Scott Peterson, but he stands to profit too much from her death both personally and financially for him to be the right person to make that choice.”

    13 years of holding on to a vegetable wife is hardly profitable, both personally or financially. How much debt has he takin on with the loss of his domestic partner and her medical care to this point? The debt of more than a decade of grief far exceeds any amount of money he stands to gain.

  63. The problem with the living will is that most people do say they would not want ‘extraordinary medical intervention’ to save their life, but don’t think of food and water as being extraordinary, but basic. For instance, my mother was dying of cancer and we would give her water anytime she was thirsty, and were thrilled if she felt at all hungry to get her whatever she felt she could eat a little bit of. There was no chance that these measures would save her life, but we wanted to take the best possible basic care of her body (because we believe that as long as there is life, the person and their body cannot be treated ‘separately’). We also kept her clean. Never once did we think, “Well, she’s dying, why bother with all this basic care stuff.” I would want my wife to ‘pull the plug’ if my life was being kept going artificially with no hope I could ever sustain myself. It is only her own morality and her real, faithful love for me which would hold her to a reading of that statement that did not include starving me to death. Unfortunately, Terri’s husband has essentially remarried and has no such faithful, loving interest in supporting Terri or her wishes. God help us all if our caretakers in our final hours have positive incentives to see us dead.

  64. >>The problem with the living will is that most people do say they would not want ‘extraordinary medical intervention’ to save their life, but don’t think of food and water as being extraordinary, but basic.

  65. Didn’t the husband essentially win a lawsuit on the basis that he needed to money to take care of his wife, which he is now renaging on? And if her family wants to take care of her, and there’s no clear indication that she wanted to die, why isn’t he just leaving the problem off to her relatives and wshing his hands of the whole thing?

  66. Let me second that and note that people are talking as though there’s something manifestly sleazy about this guy having moved in with someone else (his de facto wife) and fathered a child. As far as I can tell, the medical consensus appears to be that the brain damage in this case is pretty much irreperable. (Even those arguing for rehabilitation aren’t claiming anything more ambitious that perhaps she could one day learn to feed herself.) Under the circumstances, I find it pretty hard to begrudge this guy the desire, after watching this for several years, to continue having some sort of normal love life. I think if that were my prognosis, I’d certainly want my spouse to move on and find someone else, rather than pining away for a decade.

  67. could you watch someone you loved dearly lie in a vegetative state because her family swears its for her own good or more natural?

    i couldn’t.

  68. The last two posts come awfully close to saying that the value of life depends on how other people feel about it.

  69. the ones above that on how much money it costs or what the courts say.

    all three scare the shit of me.

  70. joe, that is what exactly is taking place right now. Now the State of Florida will determine the value of life, not the family. And when you are in a coma/vegetative state on life support, it has to come down to how other people feel about it unless you explicitly say it in a will.

  71. Why give up hope? You never give up hope. But the husband has to move on at some point and the hospital does not have infinite resources. Think of the reasons one signs a life insurance policy in the first place and the conditions on which the policy is to be honored. And the doctor and nurse’s time involved. Is everyone so sure they want Terry to be strung on indefinitely when those same resources could be better utilized?

  72. either she’s the husband’s property, the family’s property or the state’s property. but because she cannot act for herself, she has to be someone’s responsibility, sadly.

    i had a long talk last night with my fiancee about living wills and DNR orders and the like. i would hope she’d be willing to go to such lengths to prevent people from keeping me bodily alive if i were dead in every other way. she feels the same – i can’t imagine what i would do if i were in the situation the husband has been in and her family tried to prolong her suffering for unimaginable reasons.

    if nothing else, i hope everyone here has some form of living will in order. if not, use this case as inspiration as to why it’s important, and hopefully never necessary.

  73. Gabrial,
    You bring up a point that I wasn’t privy too. Again, I am still not privy to every thing that has happended since Terri’s fateful day, but its conceivable that within the first year or two, doctors concluded that she wasn’t coming back, and 13 years later, she still hasn’t. Therefore, maybe the husband has been fighting believing in her best interest. But I will yield at the obvious conflict of interest with the insurance payoff.

    I felt like talking to my girlfriend about the same thing. But I figured I better propose first!

  74. bviously, people will make different decisions in these kinds of cases based on their personal beliefs, as has been amply illustrated above. But somebody has to decide.

    I hope we can all agree that, as a matter of principle, giving the Governor of a state the power to sieze control of the medical care of its citizens is a bad idea.

    All the people out there who think it was a good idea for the Governor to step in because they do not want to see the plug pulled in this case need to look beyond this single case and realize that this sets a precedent for the Governor (or his delegates in the bureaucracy) to step in and order that the plug be pulled. If he can override the legal guardian and order that the plug be put back into the wall, then he can also override the legal guardian and order that the plug be pulled.

    Whenever a government arrogates a power to itself, you need to ask yourself if you want to see people you disagree with exercising that power. If your answer is “no, I don’t want radical secularists/fundamentalist Christians (pick your bugaboo) deciding what happens to me when I am in a coma,” you should be opposed to the Governor stepping in here, because you don’t know who will be Governor when you are laying in a bed flatlined.

  75. Gabriel-
    Your argument cuts against your conclusion. It would have been easier and less expensive to simply pass off care and responsibility to the parents. As you point out, the litigation has been so costly that it’s not as though he’s reaping big bucks by seeking to end her life. His actions don’t make sense if he’s acting out of greed; they do if he genuinely believes that it’s what she would have wanted and is trying to carry out her wishes.

  76. The problem here is that we’re too hung up on defining life as being in a certain physical state. What draws us together, what makes us able to even have this argument in the first place is language – the ability to communicate. I think it would be better for all sides involved if we defined life legally as the reasonable expectation of communication.

    Imagine this scenario instead: once the doctors have determined to the best of their ability Terri no will no longer be able to be a functioning member of society they declare her legally dead. The husband gets his life insurance settlement and the state stops support of a lost cause. Then the family or a private charity steps in and supports Terri’s husk for as long as they see fit. Everybody wins.

    Of course as I’m typing this I just realized – what if Terri is in agony right now and just has no way to show it like the drunkard encased in brick in Edgar Allen Poe’s Tomb? In the above scenario I’m assuming a lot about her mental state and neurology isn’t yet to the point where it can make definitive judgments like that.

  77. Julian, he’s been paying for the litigation out of money awarded to him by a court for her rehabilitation, which he does not appear to have spent a dime on. The litigation does not cost him anything either. And what does he get when she dies? Why don’t you look that up and get back to me?

    Yes, it’s true he’s been appointed to make these decisions for his wife. However, it is possible for people in those positions to abuse them and I don’t think it is unreasonable to question their decisions, or the decisions of the courts that support him.

    This man wants to kill his wife. I think there should be every possible scrutiny before that is allowed to happen. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. There is enough doubt, in this particular case, that the governor and legislature of Florida are willing to intervene in it. When did that ever happen before? This does not appear to be the situtation Mona has been describing. I mean, this man has refused to allow anyone even to attempt rehabilitiative therapy that might get his wife off the feeding tube.

  78. As for the “disturbing precedent” that is being set by Terri’s Bill, note that it gives teh Governor power to suspend, for fifteen days, dehydrations that are contested by families. It doesn’t say he can order plugs pulled. Or keep people alive indefinitely at his whim.

    How is that unfair, unreasonable, or an encroachement?

  79. Lincoln Ellis,

    That’s OK. EVERYBODY seems to be “assuming a lot about her mental state” as you put it.

    Two salient points, I think, that have been overlooked in this thread are a) the meaning of ‘suffering’; and b) hope.

    Here’s what I want to know: Is ‘suffering’ a cognitive state’? If so, Terry Schiavo must pass Julian’s test for establishing whether she is alive since she can think/ feel. Of course, then we couldn’t end her life because that would be murder. On the other hand, if she is truly braindead, she is not suffering, and there is no moral imperative to finish her off. There is nothing immoral about sustaining her.

    This, of course opens a whole other can-o’-worms concerning what we can truly know about the subjective states/ perceptions of others. We can only INFER, and that carries a certain amount of inductive baggage, rather than being an exercise in strict deductive logic. Two things seem obvious (and completely contradictory): we’re all the same under the skin; and we’re all different.

    Also, there is the issue of hope. The parents, being parents, seem to have it. The husband seems to be motivated more by hopelessness at best. There have been great strides in our understanding of the brain, especially in the last twenty years or so. Hope in biomedical advances is why many people have themselves frozen. A great degree of hope is, I think, justified. Are the parents being too hopeful? Perhaps. But if Terry is not suffering, why give up?

  80. This whole situation makes me sick to my stomach…I am a parent of a 15 month old…..and if the same situation were to happen to my son when he grew up..I would fight toothe and nail over any person who “came into his life” after years of love and care for him..and try to vicariously dictate orders regarding his life when that individual has no “Moral” right to do so when that individaul is in “Major Default”…
    THe Proof is in the pudding…
    He does not “care” about Terri…
    If he “Cared” about her then he wouldn’t “hurt” her family..
    It’s all about him…the money..his fiance and his out of “WEDLOCK” offspring..duh…..
    A new law regarding all marriage contracts should can make a decision about my life…when you make the desicion to honor me as your wife…

  81. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/09/2003 09:42:08
    Unusual ideas can make enemies.

  82. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/20/2003 04:50:05
    There’s nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

  83. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/09/2004 03:17:14
    Describing is not knowing.

  84. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 01:50:31
    Communism has nothing to do with love. Communism is an excellent hammer which we use to destroy our enemy.

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