Through a glass darkly 10/7

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Probate judge George Greer has sentenced Terri Schindler-Schiavo to death by starvation. Her crime? Being defenseless. Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, doesn't want his wife to live. She has been under treatment for 10 years following a mysterious collapse at her home. Her parents have been struggling with Schiavo to keep their daughter alive but if nothing happens to change the situation they will lose their battle and their daughter shortly. When I went to work at Nevada Habilitation Center we had a period of training before actually working with the clients. Our instructor, Marilyn Edmonds, told us that one of our primary duties was to be an advocate for the clients we worked with. In dealing with anyone who can't speak for themselves the best way is to consider what was best for the client before acting. That's good advice, and not just for someone working at the Hab Center. To the best of our abilities we have to put aside what we would like to see happen and put the needs of those who can't articulate those needs first. Schiavo claims his wife made comments in casual conversation in front of his brother and sister-in-law stating she didn't want to be kept alive artificially and that she is in a persistent vegetative state. The latter has been disputed by over a dozen doctors and the former seems to be thin evidence on which to base a decision I've made casual remarks about not wanting heroic efforts made to save me if something happens. I'd hate to have someone use those remarks as the basis of whether to continue care for me or not because they were so general as to be useless as a guide. I've made much more specific comments on a living will which is the document I hope doctors go by when considering treatment options for me. It seems strange to me that the only evidence about the casual comments Schindler-Schiavo is alleged to have made comes from relatives of the husband. If she made these comments you'd think some friends of the family would have heard them and could testify about them. Talk is cheap and some people, me included, have, at times, made statements that contain some hyperbole and shouldn't be taken at face value. You would think that when a person's life is at stake much more would be required than some "casual" comments. The judge in the case has refused to let the Schindler's give their daughter any treatment. This seems to me to be cruel and unusual punishment. If, as Schiavo claims, his wife is in a persistent vegetative state the treatment will be ineffective and therefore wouldn't undermine his position or the relative merits of his case. However, if, as Schindler-Schiavo's family believes, she can benefit it is inhumane to deny her the treatment that could help her to become more self-sufficient. We, as a people, have to do all we can to ensure that those who can't take care of themselves are given every chance to get treatment and better themselves. We should only consider letting a doctor discontinue treatment when it is the clear and unequivocal desire, expressed in more than a casual manner, of the person who is affected.