Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Who decides whether Terri Schiavo lives?

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, the federal judge appointed by congress to determine whether Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old brain-damaged woman who has been in an unconscious state since 1990, should have her feeding tube reinserted, said today that he would not order the tube be reinserted.

This story has been one of the leading headlines across both the blogosphere and network media outlets. I’ve been trying to figure it out, and I’m not exactly sure where I stand.

Schiavo is currently in what is described as a permanent vegetative state by neurologists. “No one has ever come back from such a condition, according to the American Academy of Neurology,” the MSNBC story reads.

However, she is alive, and the feeding tube is the only artificial process used to keep her that way. She is able to breathe on her own, from what I understand.

Therefore, removing the feeding tube to “let her die” is literally starving her to death. Not exactly the painless “just letting her go” process some are making it out to be.

National Review Online’s editors say that the case demonstrates that existing safeguards against “assisting suicides” of those who do not want assisted suicide are insufficient, since, they write, the evidence that Schiavo would have wanted to be deprived of food and water if unconscious is “sketchy at best.”

Does anyone have the right to make this determination? There is certainly an element in me that understands the desire to remove the tube – if I were in the same state, I’m certain I’d hope that someone would do that for me. But who could rightly make that determination?

Would it be my spouse, who had legal guardianship, but remarried and had children by someone else in the interim? Would it be my parents, who might disagree with my legal guardian? Would it be Congress, the president, or a U.S. District Court judge?

When it comes down to it, I don’t think any of them have a say in the matter. In fact, not even I would, really. I don’t think the state should subsidize or support suicide, nor should it be left to the state to decide who “wants” to let themselves die.

But this is certainly a tough case.