I really wanted not to comment on the Terri Schiavo case. I really wanted not to comment on it because I don’t think our comments matter. In the end, this is a personal, family matter that has been blown out of all proportion. (Yes, there are larger issues here, but what is happening to Terri Schiavo is happening across the United States right now with other patients and we haven’t been paying attention to them.) So, why am I commenting now? No good reason, other than to get it out of my head.

There’s so much noise out there right now, and very little of it means anything. I’m kind of embarrassed to say I did add to the noise on one blog, because I had noticed an idea the writer had come up with was spreading rapidly through other blogs I read and I felt the need to comment on it. He took CT scan images of Terri Schiavo’s brain and a normal brain and compared them. Seems reasonable, except for the fact that 95% of blog readers aren’t used to interpreting the information given, and the other 5% would often tell you that one image of a scan isn’t exactly enough for them to offer an opinion. So, I was amazed when I noticed a lot of people doing just that. (Okay, this fellow probably has a good idea. Or maybe this fellow? Darn hard to tell from folks just commenting on a scan they saw on the Internet.)

Then I notice things like this, and it raises my blood pressure again. So Bill Frist, M.D., offered an uninformed medical opinion in the role of “Top Doctor in Congress,” huh? And it’s big deal because it might be against medical ethics? Great, another illustration of how much this has turned into a partisan debate. If it wasn’t for uninformed medical opinions from doctors who should know better than to offer them in public, there wouldn’t be much news for our national media outlets to hyperventilate over. In other words, this isn’t unusual, folks, even though it is wrong.

For what it’s worth, this case has made me think a lot more about living wills and medical power of attorney, which is a good thing. I do want to have some say in how I go, and I trust my wife to make those decisions for me. That needs to be spelled out, though.

What is my take on larger questions, as if it’s worth knowing any more than anyone else’s?

  1. Removing hydration and food from a person is cruel, and all the medical opinions about “can’t feel pain, doesn’t know what is happening” do not change that. We’re still debating whether fish feel pain. How can we tell with humans?
  2. If a person wishes to die, and is unable to do so themselves, we should make it as comfortable and quick as possible. Yes, I’m talking about assisted suicide. I’m not in favor of suicide, but we already have it. It’s happening right now. We need to make it more humane, if we have it at all.
  3. Where the decision to die has not been explicitly made, it has to belong to the next-of-kin. In Florida law, that’s her husband, and yes, it will mean people we as outsiders may not approve of get to make that decision. I can’t in good conscience deny her husband the same right I would wish my wife to have, unless he was proven unworthy of it in some fashion, such as a court of law. The court has not so ruled.
  4. No, making a federal law out of it is not a bad thing. It’s amazing to see people who would have looked upon states’ rights as potential evidence of the Confederacy rising again immediately turn against federal control when they don’t agree with the federales who will be doing the controlling. (And vice versa. Everybody thinks national control is good when their party is in power.)
  5. Note I didn’t say that would lead to good law. Just that there wasn’t anything wrong with a federal law as opposed to a myriad of state laws. I’m personally a fan of moving political control as close to the people as possible, but we haven’t proven good stewards of that faith many times in our history.

What are things that make me very angry during this debate?

  1. Our President signed a law in Texas that allows hospitals to decide to remove life support when the family of the patient can’t pay for it and an ethics board deems the care “futile,” even if the family asks for that care to be continued.
  2. Is Tom Delay ranting about that one? Nope, this is about political gain. And his own “victimhood.”
  3. Congratulations, everyone, for somehow making this a partisan matter. Particularly Rick Santorum.
  4. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Michael Schiavo doesn’t come off very well in interviews normally. This is the best one I’ve seen with him. However, I’ve noticed people’s interpretation of him seemed for a while to be “Cruel Bastard” vs. “We Can’t Know What He’s Going Through.” Now that the national Republicans are fully involved, it’s gone to “Cruel Bastard” vs. “Loving, Dedicated Husband Who Has Fought for Years.” I’ve been guilty of idle speculation about the family situation, but we really don’t know one way or the other, folks. If you’re morally or politically outraged, making up the story as you go along isn’t going to help. That goes for everyone.
  5. Amateur metaphysicians that are debating whether she’s “truly alive” or not. Do y’all have a good test for soul presence?
  6. Materialists who point out that she is non-communicative and non-contributing, therefore not a true human. Have fun when you get old, folks.
  7. Are we so tabloidized that we can’t deal with the personal, ethical, moral, and political issues at least somewhat on their own terms? There are a lot of questions to be answered here, yet we seem incapable of concentrating on any of them.
  8. Stories about the European attitudes toward the U.S. The Europeans go through this sort of moral/legal struggle as often as we do. If the story you’re writing is just quotes illustrating “enlightened European comment,” you might want to check them out during an election.
  9. Commentary on the “Coming Great Cultural War.” Mm-hmm. Man the barricades, whatever. Perhaps we should note that if Pat Buchanan exhibited little sense of recent history when he said it, it doesn’t make it better when we say it now.
  10. Is it just me, or do Florida courts and state government seem particularly unsuited to handle major cases?

Anyway, I’ve now ranted my uninformed opinions, which makes me no better than millions of others. For anyone who’s coming in late, check out the timeline of this particular case. The University of Miami (Florida) has a nice site that actually tries to do something constructive.

Update: A fair article in Slate about what is wrong with what Congress is currently doing.

Update, again: This doctor, however, needs to learn how to make his point:

“To the families and loved ones, and to inexperienced health care professionals, PVS patients often look fairly ‘normal. Their eyes are open and moving about during the periods of wakefulness that alternate with periods of sleep; there may be spontaneous movements of the arms and legs, and at times these patients appear to smile, grimace, laugh, utter guttural sounds, groan and moan, and manifest other facial expressions and sounds that appear to reflect cognitive functions and emotions, especially in the eyes of the family.” – Dr. Ronald Cranford, a neurologist and bioethicist at the University of Minnesota Medical School

So, wait. That’s a pretty long list there, and could be construed to cover many of my activities during a day. I think he needs to work on that one a bit more. He’s had time to do so. He’s a leading figure in talking about the ethics of the right to die, and has attracted some controversy down through the years. Google him.