Terri Schiavo Roundup
Collected below are just a few of the more significant stories and opinion pieces on the Terri Schiavo circus.
Reuters states the obvious: “Schiavo Case Exposes Political Divide in U.S.”
By intervening in the fate of a severely brain-damaged Florida woman, President Bush and Congress have turned up the volume on cultural and social issues that divide Republicans and Democrats in the United States. The “moral” rift — including on the questions of abortion and gay marriage — laid bare in last year’s presidential election was exposed again on Monday over an emergency bill to prolong the life of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was removed three days ago. Democrats accused Republicans of pandering to the religious conservatives who helped re-elect Bush on an issue they said should be decided by the Schiavo family and the state courts. “They clearly viewed this as a political opportunity,” one Democratic official said. “They saw this as a chance to service their base. … It was a no-brainer for them.”
The reported divide, though, is far from even if a new ABC News poll is to be believed:
Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain.
The public, by 63 percent-28 percent, supports the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case. Congress passed such legislation and President Bush signed it early today.
That legislative action is distinctly unpopular: Not only do 60 percent oppose it, more Ã¢€” 70 percent Ã¢€” call it inappropriate for Congress to get involved in this way. And by a lopsided 67 percent-19 percent, most think the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved.
This ABC News poll also finds that the Schiavo case has prompted an enormous level of personal discussion: Half of Americans say that as a direct result of hearing about this case, they’ve spoken with friends or family members about what they’d want done if they were in a similar condition. Nearly eight in 10 would not want to be kept alive.
Given the public’s distrust of politicians, the first part of this isn’t surprising. The overwhelming number of those favoring the removal of Terri’s tube, though, is. Caveat: I haven’t seen the exact wording of the question.
Micah Sifry observes that this case “demonstrates the power of a networked minority over a diffuse majority.” Quite so. My guess is that the 28% is much, much more intense in their belief than the 63%.
The public is not aware of what will actually happen to Terri Schiavo after her food and water are permanently withdrawn. The reality is that, over a period of several weeks, she will be slowly starved to death. The first effects of starvation and dehydration when the feeding tube is removed include the mouth drying out and the tongue becoming swollen and cracked. When a person is slowly killed in this way, the lips become parched and cracked, and a thick coating may begin to cake the mouth and lips. The eyes will sink back into the skull, while the cheeks will hollow. The lining of the nose will begin to crack, too, possibly causing nosebleeds. The skin will turn dry and scaly and hang loose on the bones. Urine decreases, becoming highly concentrated, and eventually stops completely. Then, the stomach lining dries out, causing vomiting and dry heaves. Brain cells dry out, too, causing convulsions. The respiratory tract dries out and thick secretions develop, which may plug the lungs and airways. Eventually, after the body suffers all these effects, all the major organs fail, including the lungs, heart and brain.
While it’s untrue that such stories aren’t out there, Whitehead is likely right that the public isn’t quite aware of what this method of dying means. Of course, this could just as well be an argument for active euthanasia as for forcing Schiavo to live out her days in a persistent vegetative state.
Virtually every blog on my blogroll has had commentary on the Schiavo case. LaShawn Barber, Jeff Jarvis, Jeff Goldstein, Steven Taylor, Michele Catalano, and Wizbang’s Paul offer a representative selection of the views and reactions on the issue.
Update: See these pieces, too:
Vegetative state can give kin false hope (MALCOLM RITTER, AP)
In the family video played over and over on TV, Terri Schiavo seems to gaze fondly at her mother, with the hint of a smile. On Sunday night, as Congress took up debate on her case, her father told reporters that she responded to his teasing by making a face at him. “It tells us she’s still with us,” he said. But in Schiavo’s condition, described as a persistent vegetative state, family members can be deceived by things like eye movements and reflexes, experts say. “It creates this ironic combination of wakefulness without awareness,” said Dr. James Bernat, a neurology professor at Dartmouth Medical School. That’s because in a persistent vegetative state, the brain centers that control wakefulness are functioning, but those that permit conscious awareness of oneself or the environment are damaged or destroyed.
As a result, patients close their eyes to sleep and open them when they wake up. If a doctor brushes the eyeball with a wisp of cotton, they may blink. If something gets caught in the throat, they will cough. There may be limited eye movements, though patients can’t follow a person walking from one side of the room to another, for example. That’s in contrast to a coma, in which the eyes remain closed and a person is neither aware nor awake, or brain death, in which there is no sign at all that the brain is functioning.
Bernat, past chairman of the American Academy of Neurology’s Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee, declined to comment specifically on the Schiavo case. He said outward signs of persistent vegetative state can give family members false hope. “There’s a normal tendency of family members to interpret (random) movements as evidence of awareness,” said Bernat, who recalled seeing that happen with his own patients. He said that when family members claim that a loved one in a persistent vegetative state is purposefully looking at them, he asks to accompany them to the bedside and see for himself. Sometimes, in fact, family members really have noticed genuine signs of consciousness and investigation shows the diagnosis was incorrect, he said. But in his experience, Bernat said, most of the time the family has been wrong.
A husband refuses to quit in the face of anguish and vitriol (SANDY BAUERS, Knight Ridder)
He has been vilified on Web sites and talk shows. He’s been called a wife-abuser, an adulterer, a money-grubbing murderer. Death threats have been left in his mailbox. Throngs of protesters have waved signs and chanted outside his house in Clearwater, Fla., and they have gathered again. Sometimes, even Michael Schiavo’s friends have wondered why, in the face of all that, he didn’t just walk away. It would have been easier for him to relinquish guardianship of his severely incapacitated wife, Terri, to her parents. So why not give it up, leave Terri’s feeding tube in, let her parents care for her? After all, he is living with another woman now and they have two children. “Because he’s sticking by what he promised,” Scott Schiavo, Michael’s brother, said in a recent interview. “He wants to honor the last thing he can give to her.”
Throughout the protracted legal battle, the Schindlers have made their religious views, their personal anguish, and their mistrust of Michael Schiavo a public cause.
Intensely private, according to his family and friends, Michael Schiavo has rarely spoken publicly about the matter, out of respect for his wife’s privacy. Through his brother, he declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in recent days he has gone on national TV to reiterate that Terri would not have wanted to live like this and criticize politicians for getting involved in a deeply personal matter. His brother and friends also have decided that it’s time to speak up. The mudslinging, they said, has become too ugly, too nasty. “I have a friend who I think has been maligned,” said Russ Hyden of Gainesville, Fla. “We’re tired of it. We’re done. It’s time people know who he is,” said Scott Schiavo, who lives in Levittown, Pa., near where the brothers were raised.
The thing is, even if Michael Schiavo wins the final court battle, and Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is removed, he really hasn’t won at all, Scott said. “He’s already lost,” he said. “He’s already lost Terri.”
Whatever one thinks of Michael Schiavo or the issues involved in this case, this point seems constantly lost. Nothing I’ve seen indicates that he was anything but devoted to his late wife when she was alive. If he’s telling the truth–and judges have repeatedly found no reason to find otherwise–then he’s merely carrying out her expressed wish not to be kept alive in a form completely unrecognizable to her. For him to be treated as an evil man trying to off his wife for the money is despicable.
One can sympathize with Terri’s parents and siblings without villifying her widow.