To this list of blessings I can add a new one: It is not up to me to decide whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies. In a certain narrow sense of the phrase, I don’t really care one way or the other. This is not to say that I don’t sympathize and empathize with Terri, her family, her husband, her doctors and nurses, the judges who have reviewed her case, the politicians who (perhaps ill-advisedly) decided to become involved and poor Kathryn Lopez at National Review Online who does care very, very much. It’s just that the merits on both sides are so perfectly balanced that I can see little reason to prefer one over the other. This fine balance is the reason that the Schiavo thing has been so contentious for so long.
NR Online currently has a article by Pia de Solenni, the director of life and women’s issues at the Family Research Council, in which she argues that Terri Shiavo’s condition should be re-examined, in part because –
It’s not even clear that she’s in a persistent vegetative state, since she’s never had the benefit of diagnostic exams such as an MRI or PET.
Also on the NR website (on their blog, The Corner) is a link to a the CodeBlue blog in which a doctor (a radiologist in south Florida) posts a CT scan of Terri’s brain and remarks that it is not that bad…
I HAVE SEEN MANY WALKING, TALKING, FAIRLY COHERENT PEOPLE WITH WORSE CEREBRAL/CORTICAL ATROPHY. THEREFORE, THIS IS IN NO WAY PRIMA FACIE EVIDENCE THAT TERRI SCHIAVO'S MENTAL ABILITIES OR/OR CAPABILITIES ARE COMPLETELY ERADICATED. I CANNOT BELIEVE SUCH TESTIMONY HAS BEEN GIVEN ON THE BASIS OF THIS SCAN.
Both of these writers support further evaluation of Terri Schiavo’s condition before she is allowed to die and, yes, they do contradict each other in the details. On the one hand the CT scan exists, on the other hand it is nine years old and de Solenni could have qualified her statement to indicate that there were no “recent” diagnostic scans. As the case drags on the facts get tattered and frayed. They lose their sharp outlines and everything becomes true and everything becomes false, as it suits you to see things. I didn’t pick this inconsistency to take sides; it’s just the example that caught my eye and supports my notion that the facts of the case are complicated and inconsistent. I could easily find similar inconsistencies in the arguments on the other side. Which is why I am so, so glad it isn’t up to me.
Even if it were up to me my decision would be determined by my relation to the case. If I were a Florida judge, given the rough equivalence of merit on both sides I would probably see no compelling reason to override the decision of Terri’s husband. If I were a judge in a federal court I would see no compelling reason to override the decision of the Florida courts. If I were a member of the US House or Senate I would, for Federalist reasons, defer to the laws of the State of Florida. And, if I were a Florida legislator I would be largely without guidance -- I might want to put the feeding tube back in to give me more time to make up my mind.
And, if I was just me? If all of the principals of the case came to me, saying “BigLee, we have heard of your vast wisdom and have come for advice,” what would I do? After first making sure they hadn’t mistaken me for some other wise guy with the same name, I would advise them to put the feeding tube back in and let Terri’s parents and other family take care of her. For justification, I would use the flip side of something the Marcus Aurius said in his Meditations about the fear of death.
He who fears death either fears the loss of sensation or a different kind of sensation. But if thou shalt have no sensation, neither wilt thou feel any harm; and if thou shalt acquire another kind of sensation, thou wilt be a different kind of living being and thou wilt not cease to live.
It seems to me to apply equally well to Terri’s current state. Either Terri is still there and her parents should be allowed to take care of her, or she is gone and it does her no harm to allow her parents to take care of her. After 15 years, and with no hope left, her husband is understandably eager to get on with his life. I’d give Terri to her parents – for their sake, not for hers – and set her poor husband free.