• Euthanasia •
December 9, 2005
News reports out of Israel indicate that the nation’s parliament has devised a way to allow for euthanasia without violating Jewish law, which forbids human action in taking human life. According to The Telegraph [London], the legislators came up with a scheme that would employ a machine to kill terminally ill patients.
October 13, 2005
Peter Singer has seen the future, and it does not include the sanctity of life. To be more specific, Singer presents his argument about the future in a forum published in the September/October 2005 edition of Foreign Policy. The magazine asked a number of leading intellectuals to suggest what ideas, institutions, and features of contemporary life will be left behind as human beings rush into a bold new future. As Peter Singer sees it, confidence in the sanctity of human life must be abandoned in order for humanity to be redefined in the new millennium.
October 9, 2005
The Bishop of Oxford (Church of England) is not the type to be hung up on orthodoxy. The Right Reverend Richard Harries is a determined theological liberal who takes predictably “progressive” positions on just about any issue. I was surprised, therefore, to see him oppose an effort in Britain’s House of Lords to legalize some forms of “assisted suicide” and euthanasia.
August 4, 2005
On Tuesday, Susan Torres gave birth to the baby girl for whom she had hoped and prayed. Shortly thereafter, she was removed from life-support systems. Within a few short hours of her daughter’s birth, Susan Torres was dead.
The baby was delivered by a Caesarean section as doctors raced against time. The little girl was delivered at 27 weeks of gestation. Back in May, Susan Torres collapsed and was declared brain-dead. She had been treated for melanoma as a teenager. Unknown to her, the cancer had returned with a vengeance, metastasizing to her brain. She never knew that she was dying, and she never knew her baby. Nevetheless, she gave her baby life.
When the nature of Mrs. Torres’ crisis was known, her husband asked doctors to keep her alive on life support until the baby could be born. At that time, the baby was at only 12 weeks gestation. The baby and the doctors were in a race against time. In recent days, the cancer had grown so remarkably that doctors decided to deliver the baby without further delay.
According to physicians, the little girl is likely to survive, though she will remain at the hospital for several weeks. Jason Torres, Susan’s husband, was not available for comment. His brother, Justin Torres spoke for the family as he talked about the meaning of Susan’s life and death: “Her passing is a testament to the truth that human life is a gift from God,” he said, “and that children are always to be fought for, even if life requires — as it did of Susan — the last full measure of devotion.”
COVERAGE: The Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, USA Today, The Washington Examiner, and The Washington Times.
July 10, 2005
An honest sense of moral discomfort marks Jim Holt’s article published in today’s edition of The New York Times Magazine. In “Euthanasia for Babies?“, Holt considers the now-infamous Groningen Protocols developed by a team of Dutch doctors. These medical protocols allow for the killing of infants judged to be enduring great pain.
June 23, 2005
The tragic saga of the late Terri Schiavo just never ceases to be a cause of moral depression. The latest development is the revelation that Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, has placed a marker over Terri’s grave that, to put it mildly, invents a new postmodern version of truth.
The marker, made to Mr. Schiavo’s instructions, claims that Terri Schiavo “Departed this Earth” on February 25, 1990 — the date of her catastrophic brain injury. On another line the marker claims that Terri was “at peace” on March 31, 2005. In other words, Michael Schiavo now claims that Terri “died” in 1990, but was not allowed to be “at peace” until fifteen years later.
This is both medical and moral nonsense. Terri Schiavo’s death certificate lists March 31, 2005 as her date of death. Until then, she was not brain dead, nor was she legally or medically dead.
Furthermore, this claim is inconsistent, to say the least, with what Michael Schiavo claimed during the course of his medical malpractice lawsuit related to Terri’s injury. In 1992, Mr. Schiavo stated, “I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.” As Charlotte Allen points out, this is strange language (note the present tense) from someone who supposedly believed that his wife had already been dead for some time. But, then again, that was then and this is now. This grave marker reveals the mentality that has been driving Michael Schiavo throughout his determined and successful battle to bring Terri’s life to an end.
NOTE THIS SOURCE: Mitch Stacey, Terri Schiavo’s Remains Buried in Clearwater, Associated Press, June 21, 2005.
June 16, 2005
The autopsy report on Terri Schiavo was released yesterday, and some pundits were quick to jump to conclusions. The report indicates that the pathologist who conducted the autopsy was unable to determine either the cause of the cardiological disruption that caused her brain injury or the precise nature of her mental state after the injury. In any event, an autopsy is unable to determine whether a patient was in a “persistent vegetative state” or a “minimally conscious state.” The pathologist did argue that Mrs. Schiavo was blind and that therapy would not have improved her mental state.
Of course, we will never know if that judgment is accurate or not, since her death by legally-inflicted dehydration ended any possibility of further treatment. The pathologist also ruled that Terri Schiavo died of “marked dehydration” rather than starvation.
In a news story released by The Washington Post, the reporter seemed to claim that Mrs. Schiavo had died back in 1990 when she suffered the injury. The lead paragraph of the article, posted on the newspaper’s Web site Wednesday afternoon, read like this: “Terri Schiavo died of the effects of a profound and prolonged lack of oxygen to her brain on a day in 1990, but what caused that event isn’t known and may never be, the physician who performed her autopsy said today.” When did Terri Schiavo die? The structure of this sentence would seem to suggest that she died back in 1990.
This is profoundly not the case. Terri Schiavo was not brain dead in 1990, and she was not brain dead until she died of court-ordered dehydration. She was not on a ventilator and she could even swallow. No medical authority attempted to classify her as brain dead during the course of the controversy. This is not just a quibble over language — it is a battle for the recognition of human dignity.
In a revised version of the article, posted to its print edition Web site for today, The Washington Post offers a much different lead: “Terri Schiavo suffered severe, irreversible brain damage that left that organ discolored and scarred, shriveled to half its normal size, and damaged in nearly all its regions, including the one responsible for vision, according to an autopsy report released yesterday.”
All this underlines once again the vast power of the media, especially in terms of framing a debate. The difference between dying in 1990 and dying in 2005 is huge, and the very definition of human life hangs in that balance.
SOURCES AND LINKS: David Brown and Shailagh Murray, Schiavo Autopsy Released, The Washington Post, Thursday, June 16, 2005. Other coverage from BBC News, Indianapolis Star, USA Today, ABC News, The New York Times.
June 10, 2005
My commentary for today, The Culture of Death — Looking Back at Terri Schiavo, considers an important article by Professor Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University. His argument is compelling and ominous. His article, Annihilating Terri Schiavo, published in the June 2005 issue ofCommentary, deserves wide attention.
Another significant (and surprising) article comes from essayist Joan Didion. “The Case of Theresa Schiavo,” published in the June 9, 2005 issue of The New York Review of Books, is a display of Didion’s keen reportorial skills, mixed with considerable insight. Consider these sections from her essay:
“Even after the removal of the feeding tube, she lived thirteen days. The removal of this feeding tube was repeatedly described as ‘honoring her directive.’ This, again, was inaccurate: there was no directive. Any expressed wish in this matter existed only in the belated telling of her husband and two of his relatives (his brother Scott Schiavo and their sister-in-law Joan Schiavo), who testified in a hearing on a 1998 petition that they had heard Theresa express the thought that she would not wish her life to be artificially prolonged. One time she was said to have expressed this thought was when Michael and Scott Schiavo’s grandmother was on life support. ‘If I ever go like that, just let me go,’ Scott Schiavo said that he had heard Theresa say. ‘Don’t leave me there.’ Another expression of the thought, Joan Schiavo testified, occurred when the two women were watching a television movie about a man on a feeding tube: according to Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George J. Felos, what Theresa said was this: ‘No tubes for me.’”
“In fact any notion about what Theresa Schiavo wanted or did not want remained essentially unconfirmable, notwithstanding the fact that a Florida court had in effect accepted the hearsay assertions that she had said, at one point, in reference to her husband’s dying grandmother and at another while watching a television movie about someone with a feeding tube, ‘no tubes for me.’ (Imagine it. You are in your early twenties. You are watching a movie, say on Lifetime, in which someone has a feeding tube. You pick up the empty chip bowl. “No tubes for me,” you say as you get up to fill it. What are the chances you have given this even a passing thought?) Most commentators nonetheless seemed inclined to regard Theresa Schiavo’s ‘directive’ as a matter of record, even as they undercut their own assumption by reminding us that the “lesson” in the case was “to sit down tonight and write your living will.” Living wills, it was frequently said, could be ‘Terri’s legacy.’”
Addressing ‘living wills’ and ‘advance directives,’ Didion remarked, “The further problem with such directives is that they can be construed as coercive: no one wants to be a ‘burden.’ Few of us want to be perceived as considering our own lives more important than the ongoing life and prosperity of the family. Few of us will sit with a husband or wife or child in a lawyer’s office or a doctor’s office and hesitate to sign the piece of paper that will mean, when the day goes downhill, the least trouble for all concerned. For all the emphasis on the importance of ‘choice,’ the only choice generally approved by the culture is to sign the piece of paper, ‘not be a burden,’ die.”
Joan Didion’s essay is truly significant, since it comes from a writer who cannot be brushed aside by the media elite as a member of the ‘religious right.’ Her analysis is truly chilling.
June 10, 2005
Public controversies tend to dissipate over time, and front-page news stories have a relatively brief shelf life. Given the pace of contemporary life, events come and go with a mind-numbing rapidity, and today’s front-page news may be quickly forgotten. Sadly, this has been the case with regard to Terri Schiavo. We need to go back and look at what really happened — and why.
April 27, 2005
The march toward routine killing of newborns in the Netherlands moves forward, and one of the doctors leading the charge is amazingly candid about his involvement in killing babies. Dr. Eduard Verhagen, a pediatrician at the Groningen Hospital, told a British television audience last night that he operates above the reach of the law: “We know the law says you are not allowed to kill anyone against their will. We also know death can be more humane than continued life if it involves extreme suffering. We are facing patients, and their parents, who we think should be given the option of actively ending their lives.” Verhagen is one of the authors of the “Groningen Protocol” for the killing of newborns. [See "Euthanasia for Newborns--Killing in the Netherlands," my commentary on the Groningen Protocol. In the British interview, Verhagen chillingly described his observations as euthanized babies. He said, "In the last minutes or seconds you see the pain relax and they fall asleep . . . At the end, after the lethal injection, their fists are unclenched and there is relief for everyone in the room. Finally, they get what they should have been given earlier." Thus speaks the agent of professionalized death in the nursery. Source: The Times of London, April 26, 2005. [subscription required]
March 31, 2005
The sad case of Terri Schiavo has been a wake-up call for many Americans, and has brought to public attention the complex of medical realities and moral decisions that characterize our postmodern age. Medicine has made remarkable advances in recent decades, but cases like that of Terri Schiavo remind us all that medical technologies and medical knowledge have limits, even in this age of modern marvels and life-saving treatments. Beyond all this, the case of Terri Schiavo underlines the inescapably moral character of medical treatment and decision-making. Once again, enduring questions remain.
March 30, 2005
The feminist movement championed the motto, “The personal is the political.” This is certainly true in the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, whose personal reality–having her life terminated by a judicial decree–has become one of the nation’s hottest political issues. The issues swirling about this debate are both urgent and enduring. How society answers these questions will frame, not only this nation’s approach to matters of life and death, but the moral character of this civilization. Yesterday, we considered the questions, “What does this mean for the culture?” and “What does this mean for the future?” Today, we turn to consider even more enduring questions brought to light by Terri Schiavo’s case.