Tag Archives: euthanasia

Reflection on Gonzales v. Carhart (the recent Ruling on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban)

Judicial Life Potentially Enters the Womb
550 U.S. ___ (2007)

On April 18, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States decided, 5 to 4, in Gonzales v. Carhart (Carhart) that the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 (Act) was constitutional in view of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (PP), and Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (Roe). The Act banned the abortion procedure identified as “intact D&E” but kept legal the “standard D&E” procedure Continue reading

Diagnostic Benefit of the Doubt

Vegetative Patient Shows Signs of Awareness, Study Says (NYT)

"A severely brain-damaged woman in an unresponsive, vegetative state showed clear signs of conscious awareness on brain imaging tests, researchers are reporting today, in a finding that could have far-reaching consequences for how unconscious patients are cared for and diagnosed."

We should not generalize this case-study too much. Still, if there were a scientific test that showed that a DNA test used to convict murderers on death row may be inaccurate, wouldn't there be plenty of people shouting for us to reconsidering our protocols for testing crime scenes? And if we try to protect suspected murderers to that degree, shouldn't we be perhaps be a little more careful in offing patients? Just a thought.

Addendum: Here's WaPo's version of the story .

Ask the Right Questions

Aristotle taught us to ask the right questions, and I fear that many advocates for Terri, of whom I am one, have been asking entirely the wrong questions. The May 2005 issue of First Things has an excellent article by Robert T. Miller called "The Legal Death of Terri Schiavo". In the introduction, he states:

"Despite all the public outrage at the horror of an innocent woman being starved to death, despite the desperate and pathetic pleas of her parents, despite even a special act of Congress requiring the federal courts to intervene, those courts have let stand an order that Terri Schiavo die – or so many usually informed commentators have said. Once again, judges have ignored the plain meaning of democratically enacted laws in order to enforce their own moral values – or so we have been told."

"Unfortunately,it isn’t true. The simple fact is that Terri Schiavo’s legal rights were never once violated. The result in the case was so unjust not because the courts ignored the law but because they followed it. The laws of Florida, like those of most states, specifically allow that, in cases like Schiavo’s, some people may decide that others ought to die."

Prof. Miller goes on to demonstrate how Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, were fighting a battle regarding federal law, which held no water, and that while what Mr. Schiavo and Judge Greer did was immoral, it was not illegal.

While I’m often asked about medical and bioethical issues by friends, I often steered clear of Terri Schiavo’s medical status. It’s a mess, with "he said, she said" finger-pointing, shifting opinions, and convenient "memories" about what Terri thought about end-of-life issues. She evidently had a rough marriage, and the whole nation got to see a family train wreck with bad judgment on both sides.

In avoiding the morass of Terri’s diagnoses, one clear issue remains: due process. Mr. Schiavo did promise to provide a certain level of medical care to Terri upon getting the malpractice awards, but did not follow up on that promise, which included neurological diagnostics that may have shed light on what exactly was going wrong with her and what her odds of rehabilitation would be. Much ink and webpage-space has been expended on this, but we still don’t know much because Mr. Schiavo stonewalled us.

Perhaps Terri was incurable, but the media did quote some dissenters in the neurology community, and without the modicum of care that Mr. Schiavo should have provided but did not, we cannot say whether those dissenters were right or not.

If there was a convicted serial rapist on death row, and some experts disputed that some forensic tests were not performed, and could bear on the convict’s guilt, would that not raise a stink in the media? I do not want to say what Terri or Mr. Schiavo really thought or meant to do, I just want an assurance of due process, and while I’d see the ACLU fighting for the right of a serial killer to live, a sick woman who cannot speak for herself is starved out of hand when her caretaker did not do the things he promised to do for her, and in the face of dissent amongst experts in the field.

I’m not saying that those dissenters, had they examined her, would have found any hope for Terri’s recovery, but that gap in care worries me.

I hope that the debate will shift from finger-pointing and chattering about autopsies to the more fundamental issues of protecting the rights and lives of patients. This debate as been cast in the media’s favorite "red vs. blue" die, but what about the disability rights advocates who argued for Terri, like Not Dead Yet?

What of the voices from Judaism that opposed pulling Terri’s feeding tube (e.g., here)? I attended a lecture last semester by a professor at Duquesne University who wrote a book comparing Catholic and Jewish bioethical tradition (he’s Jewish, by the way), and he cited Judaism’s very strict protection of dying patients, an interest that has been only intensified by experiences such as the Holocaust and the preceding T4 Program.

In short, there are many voices that objected to Terri’s treatment. In part, these voices have been silenced by the usualbiases of many reporters (as soon as Santorum and Bush weighed in on the issue, it became another right-vs.-left story).

However, much of the problem has been with Terri’s advocates, who have not hit the real issues of due process and protections of rights while muddying the waters with contradictory medical evidence, accounts of what Terri "would have wanted", and so forth. In doing so, we have also snuffed out perspectives from the disabled, the vulnerable ones in our country, and also from Jewish leaders, who are anything but Republican Christians, and who have very acute memories about where "quality of life" discussions may take us if we do not look out for our most vulnerable brethren.

Apology Due to Michael Schiavo?

The Terri Schiavo autopsy results are out and nobody seems to be talking about them. Or rather, it seems nobody who was rallying the troops in her defense is talking about them. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong blogs, but the only ones that I’ve noticed mentioning the autopsy at all are those by folks who were supporters of Michael Schiavo’s position – and they’re gloating.

She wasn’t abused.
Her brain was damaged beyond all hope of repair.
She was blind.

In short, it seems she had long ago ceased to be a living, thinking human being by any reasonable definition.

I’m still waiting to learn more of the details before saying too much, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the pro-life community and Christians in particular may owe Michael Schiavo and his supporters an apology.


Update 06/19/05: Obviously, around the time I wrote this post, the skeptics (of the autopsy) started posting. Here are some examples.

"The autopsy also documented significant brain atrophy, and the medical panel called the damage ‘irreversible.’

"This is not the same as saying she had no cognitive ability. " – Pro-Life Blogs

To say that would be redundant to the CT scans taken of here brain (source 1, source 2, source 3). If the correct interpretation of scans is that she had no cortical function left, she could not have had any cognitive ability.

"For me, the whole tragedy surrounding Terri and the people who wanted her dead didn�t hinge on how severely brain-damaged she was. She was alive and wasn�t on life support, and her husband�s credibility was extremely low, too low to trust his assertion that Terri wanted to die if ever severely brain-damaged. Forget about what you�d want if you were ever in the same condition. Take yourselves out of the equation."

"The way they killed her was appalling, and I was angry for a long time afterward. I�m giving you a heads-up. Don�t be alarmed or disgusted by the liberal media and liberal bloggers (and some conservatives, too) declaring that Terri�s wayward husband is somehow �vindicated� by the autopsy report. The doctor-induced starvation was immoral." – LaShawn Barber

If Terri Schiavo ceased to be a a thinking, feeling human being years ago, was it actually wrong to starve her empty shell to death? I guess that hinges on whether Michael Schiavo could have had sufficient knowledge to demonstrate that she was, beyond reasonable doubt, lacking cognition.

BTW, Smart Christian seems to agree with my suggestion that there might be some apologies owed. For the record, I haven’t made up my mind on this matter. I’m just not content with plugging my ears, yelling "La, la, la. I can’t hear you!", and essentially ignoring the consequences of the autopsy report, as so many of my Christian and pro-life brethren seem to be.

Stay tuned for another post on this topic.

Out of Left Field or Out of Touch With Reality?

I’m less enthused about Jesse Jackson’s public support of Terri Schiavo than Jerry is. The reverend is, in my opinion, a media whore and skipper of the "rent a mob" crew and Al Sharpton is his first mate. Want to present a lot of angry faces and voices for the cameras? Need someone to yell "Oppression!" with you? Is your bombast not bombastic enough? If you’re not concerned about nitty-gritty details like respectability, credibility, and sincerity, they’re your men. If I found out either of those clowns supported a cause dear to me, I’d ask God to grant them the good sense to keep their mouths shut, at least when reporters are present.