Starvation No Big Deal?


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.

NEXT: Another Day, Another Former Soviet Republic in Revolt

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  1. SR,

    That’s the same organization that carries the ravings of Hal Lindsey.

  2. I have begun a 3 day fast today, myself. I am doing it for health reasons, nothing more. The first day is usually tough, but after that, there is nothing to it. However, I do drink plenty of water and usually have a cup of green tea to chase down some vitamins. I have had a nutritionist at my local gym call me a guillable idiot for trusting my doctors recommendation to fast. Some people will just not believe in the benefits of certain practices, but its nothing new to me, I am an advocate and activist for medical marijuana!

    Here’s to Terri, we both are going to get better at the end of our fasts.

    For those that need to know why I fast, let me tell you. I have a body that over produces uric acid for digestion. Instead of going on medication long term that can have adverse side effects to my liver and kidneys, I chose to fast to bring down the uric acid levels. High levels of uric acid can bring on gout. Its also good for weight management and the colon.

  3. I’ve always read that the body compensates (pain-wise)for starvation after a day or so.

    I think that you can paint people into a corner with the argument that her death is cruel because it’s drawn out. We’ve made the humane thing illegal, the only avenue left is the long drawn out way.

    I don’t much care for Gov. Bush, but to compare him to the biblical Pilate shows no understanding of our system of government. It shows a delusion that people in authority wield, or should wield absolute power over the populous. Bad enough that most of them act that way to begin with.

    “The laws, my laws, must bind everyone, high and low, or they are not laws at all.” -Arthur (Excalibur)

    One reason I care about this case,is that every victory by those who would enforce their religion over the law emboldens more such action.

  4. It is also found to have most positive effect on the humours, and the control of both the black and yellow biles.

  5. Joseph Farah goes insane.

    Oh man, if she dies today the VRWC is going to go absolutely batshit.

  6. If we’re talking “torture” isn’t the dehydration the real issue here? Everyone who fasts seems to testify that you get over hunger after a few days and may even experience a strange calmness or “inner peace” as your body starts to devour itself, but all these fasters continue to drink liquids while starving. On the other hand severe thirst is usually described as a very very painful experience

  7. “Oh man, if she dies today the VRWC is going to go absolutely batshit.”

    If she dies just before sunset, it’s The Rapture.

  8. If she dies today somebody will undoubtedly file a motion to postpone burial or cremation until after Sunday, just in case.

  9. She can’t start the rapture anyway. Her condition was brought about by a combination of gluttony and vanity. Both mortal sins that in her current condition, she can’t repent for.

  10. Were the cows in persistent vegetative states? I mean, moreso than cows usually are?


    What was your point again?

  11. His point was an attempt to demonstrate that we have more compassion for animals than people. He’s right, we put Whiskers to sleep when she’s suffering, or reduced to a husk, Terri has to go on forever.

  12. thoreau,

    I’ve been wondering how the funeral will be played.

  13. Just wondering how the conservative-libertarian alliance is doing these days. The Republican Party natural home of libertarians, who share the same values of limited government and dignity for the individual.

  14. What alliance? 🙂

  15. I was wondering how any visitation happens. I get the feeling her parents and husband only prefer to see each other in court. So is the husband anywhere near the hospice? Does he encounter the parents in the room? Does he go to visit her? And, yes, how will the funeral play?

  16. Having personally watched a terminally ill friend starve himself to death I can attest that the NYT is full of shit. Although I’m certain some of the discomfort came from the disease this is something I would never wish on anyone. Maybe Ray was just one guy who suffered and nobody else does but somehow I doubt it.

  17. All this; the Schaivo thing, the Republican-Libertarian marriage, the utter wrongness of gay marriage (the total legitamacy of hetero marriage, except in the Schaivo case); it is all the results of some intelligent designer. 🙂

  18. Who watches the watchmaker?:)

  19. PintOfStout,

    I have read that he visits her nearly daily, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they bump into each other. You just know there will be bone-headed protesters with signs at the funeral stating something like “Michael = Murderer!”

    Anyone see how the Federal District Court judge verbally slapped down one of the attorneys for the Schindlers who callled the procedure “murder.”

  20. David,

    Who made the watchmaker? 🙂

  21. Dr. Manhattan?

  22. Gary, David:

    remember, any other explanation is “just a theory”

  23. joe, “Were the cows in persistent vegetative states? I mean, moreso than cows usually are?”

    Well, if they’re in a field that’s ALWAYS filled with grass, wouldn’t that be prsistantly vegetative? 🙂

  24. Is Ralph Nader a right-wing, religious zealot?

  25. I was curious about the visitation too, it seems that there are two doors to the hospice. Michael visits through the back door while the parents go through the front door and greet all their adoring fans.

  26. LL,
    Ralph Nader’s support of reinsertion isn’t going to sway many people here. He’s just as statist and as much of a zealot as the fundies.

  27. WSDave–

    that would be a persistent vegetarian state. 🙂

  28. Mo,
    That wasn’t the point. There seems to be a consensus that only right-wing religious kooks oppose starving Teri. Nader shows that ain’t quite true.

  29. Another perfect illustration where Congress has no discernable connection to the goingson in the real world.

    Many of my friends and family work in nursing and hospice care. “Euthanasia” is not an occasional event, strictly speaking. Nurses, being the closest to the suffering patients, almost always have an unspoken agreement about when to give that fatal dose of opiates. Cause of death is always listed as the debilitating condition that lead to such an end, but putting people out of their misery with heavy drugs happens ALL THE TIME.

    When I talk to any of these people about the Schaivo case, they laugh and roll their eyes and walk away. This has nothing to do with reality.

  30. JSM:

    I have begun a 3 day fast today… I am an advocate and activist for medical marijuana!

    Definitely two things that should not go together. Talk about torture …

  31. Pavel,

    Few things do.

  32. The internationally accepted Geneva Convention identifies starvation as a war crime. Nazis painfully starved and dehydrated the disabled and Jews to death. So how come ‘experts’ now say it is painless and brings on euphoria and it’s suddenly “merciful” and “natural” to force the starvation of the severely disabled? Which is just what the Nazis did.
    This is about desensitizing and demoralizing…

    One other thing: she may not have been PVS – and this is from a radiologist – the docs who have to read the scans to give the diagnosis to the neurologists…

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