The Washington Post and The New York Times both have run stories this week aimed at reassuring us that Terri Schiavo is not suffering as she dies from dehydration. Both note that conscious, terminally ill patients sometimes choose to die by refraining from eating and drinking. According to their doctors, such patients (who generally have long since lost their appetites) do not complain of hunger, and what discomfort they feel as a result of not drinking can be alleviated with ice chips, mouth swabbing, and lip balm. Supporters of Schiavo's parents say her situation, which they describe as "torture" and "starvation," is different, because she was physically healthy (except for her severe brain damage) when her feeding tube was removed. Assuming she is in a "persistent vegetative state," she would not feel any discomfort in any case (as today's story in the Times points out), but of course her parents dispute the accuracy of that diagnosis. It's not clear whether someone who is "minimally conscious," as they say she might be, would suffer from this manner of death. But withholding food and water is an unnecessarily drawn-out method that is used only so we can pretend this is something other than assisted suicide or euthanasia (depending upon your view of what Schiavo's wishes would be). Administering, say, barbiturates (if it were legal to do so) would neutralize the "torture" charge, but at the cost of making other moral issues harder to dodge.