Terri Schiavo should die in peace

While the situation is terribly troubling, Terri Schiavo has not had much of a life for 15 years.

There is simply no reason for Terri Schiavo to live anymore. Not because her entire cerebral cortex has melted into liquid, leaving her in a persistent vegetative state. Not because 20 judges have upheld Michael Schiavo’s right as next of kin to remove her feeding tube.

The fact that even the Fox News poll says that 59 percent of Americans would remove her feeding tube would not alone suffice. Another poll says that 63 percent of U.S. Catholics would remove her tube.

It is because every single party that claims to be fighting on her behalf, whether it be her parents, radical right-wing agendamongers or grandstanding politicians, have denuded Terri Schiavo of whatever personhood she might have retained before last weekend, objectifying the body in the worst possible ways in order to fulfill their own self-serving, hypocritical and partisan ends.

Terri Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers, who are fighting the removal of the feeding tube have already demonstrated in open court that they do care about her individual autonomy and are only keeping her alive for their own personal gratification. Despite the fact that her parents have admitted that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, they still derived joy from keeping her alive, even if she is not aware of her environment.

They said they would keep her alive at any and all costs, even if it means amputating each of her limbs if she contracted diabetes-induced gangrene or performing open-heart surgery in the event of heart disease. They also testified under oath that even if their daughter told them she wouldn’t want to live under those conditions, they would go ahead and keep her alive anyway.

As we all know, the one-party Republican government assumed the role of mother, father, husband, wife, doctor and priest in passing a law granting the Schindlers their day in federal court. That is right, your lawmakers stayed up past the witching hour passing a law that applies to only one family out of 111 million. And who says Congress isn’t useful nowadays?

And don’t think they would actually give a damn about Terri Schiavo if she were not so useful to them. A memo circulated by the Republican capos on Capitol Hill made perfectly clear that this “great political issue” is to be used to bash and smear Democrats during the next elections. President George W. Bush, who couldn’t be bothered to end his vacation during the tsunami disaster, couldn’t fly back to Washington fast enough to sign into law the assault on our constitutional traditions. I guess joining the rest of the Republican party in its orgy of pathological and opportunistic hypocrisy was too important to pass up.

One angle of this story that has been ignored in the media circus is that the congressional overreaching on behalf of Schiavo’s parents came just days after the House approved of $20 billion in Medicaid cuts – the same Medicaid money that has been keeping Terri Schiavo alive for some years. I could make several points of how many other Terri Schiavos that $20 billion would save, but that would get in the way of an even better story.

In 1999, while he was still governor of Texas, Bush signed into law a provision that would allow health-care providers to end life support for patients with conditions they judge medically inappropriate to continue treating, even over the objections of the immediate family. The law was supported by the National Right to Life, the organization currently demagoging on behalf of the Schindler family.

That has lead to the family of 68-year-old Spiro Nikolouzos, who is being kept alive by a ventilator and a feeding tube, to battle a hospital in court that is pulling the plug based on his prognosis and his inability to pay the medical bills. Luckily, an 11th-hour donation by a benefactor has allowed Nikolouzos to be transferred to an alternate facility.

Such good fortune has failed to bless Wanda Hudson and her infant son, Sun Hudson, who is suffering from a form of congenital dwarfism that has left him unable to breathe without a ventilator. She too lacked the resources of Terri Schiavo’s parents, even for prenatal care that would have discovered the condition in utero.

After more than three months of legal delays, Sun Hudson’s feeding tube was removed March 15, under considerably less fanfare than what Terri Schiavo is now receiving. I’d post a picture of the mother and her child, but then I’d only expose myself to accusations of “playing the race card.”

I guess being arbitrarily suffocated to death while being consciously aware is more humane than being starved while unconscious, if severe cognitive dissonance among the so-called right-to-life crowd is to be avoided. But as the courts have repeatedly found, this is what Terri Schiavo wanted in her case, and I doubt she would have liked to have her life prolonged in order to satisfy the voyeurism of a national audience.

For the sake of all of us who have faced, or will face, the difficult, deeply personal decision concerning a loved one without being demonized as murderers by perfect strangers; for the sake of those who wish to conduct their private lives without CNN talking heads making random decisions about their characters; for the sake of this country so that a rogue Congress would not micro-legislate in defiance of states rights and the powers of the judiciary; Terri Schiavo must die in peace.

Gad Onyeneho is a University student and welcomes comments at [email protected]