The life of 39-year-old Terri Schiavo, who was brain damaged in an apparent heart attack in 1999, is in the hands of the legislatures and lawyers of the state of Florida.
The court-ordered removal of Terri’s feeding tube on Oct. 15 was overturned by a bill passed in the Florida state legislature six days later. But the passage of the bill, which was sponsored by Florida’s pro-life Governor Jeb Bush, does not end the surreal controversy: surrounding the drama. Terri’s precarious situation has rekindled the debate on euthanasia and so-called mercy killing, as the culture is forced to grapple with the dignity of human life and the “compassionate” act of starvation.
Terri’s dilemma is unlike other high-profile cases where “mercy killing” is advocated: Terri is not terminally ill. Not only has she not expressed a wish to die, the levels of her cognitive and physical conditions are hotly contested. Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, maintains that she is in a “constant vegetative state,” but her family and the many volunteers who have helped establish the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation (www.terrisfight.org), maintain that, with the proper care, Terri’s condition could drastically improve.
Michael Schiavo, who is engaged to be married to another woman, has commented in the press that the court’s decision to remove his current wife’s feeding tube is something that he “struggle(s) to accept.” But accept it he did, and his attorneys are now fighting to have Terri’s feeding tube removed again. George Felos, one of Michael Schiavo’s attorneys, described the passage of the bill as “a horrible, horrible tragedy.” Unfortunately, the removal of Terri’s feeding tube is seen as the humane option in a difficult situation. Suffering has become something too difficult for others to observe; in this paradoxical situation, those fighting for Terri’s life are labelled by some to be cruel.
At press time, Michael Schiavo and Terri’s family are negotiating the appointment of a new guardian for her, but it is unlikely that the legal and legislative battle will subside with this decision. That Terri has not been starved to death yet is certainly a testament to Governor Bush, and Terri’s story, though tragic, underscores the importance of pro-life politicians in office. He fought both in the courts and the legislature to protect Terri’s life.
It is odd that when a husband, whose wife cannot feed herself, lobbies to have her feeding tube removed, it is seen as compassionate. He is said to have complete control of her body. If, on the other hand, the wife was pregnant and wanted an abortion, the husband would have no rights at all.
It seems that the only consistency in the culture is that the dignity of the human person is always maligned.
Stephen Tardiff is studying literature and philosophy at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.