No compromise

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Terri Schiavo case raises some very difficult issues.

It is not the black and white, death or life, issue some people want it to be. I’ve seen on television over the past few days individuals claiming that her husband wants her dead because he will profit from her death, both monetarily and in being rid of a problem, but I’ve also heard that despite his having moved on with his personal life that he still very much loves his wife and wants what he thinks is best for her and what she would want.

He was offered $1 million last week to sign custody of Terri Schiavo to her parents, but he refused. Certainly not the actions of a callous profiteer.

It is possible that both her parents and her husband are seeking what they think is in her best interest. People want there to be a villain in any conflict, but it just doesn’t work that way. When Solomon offered to cleave a baby in two, it was because neither of the women claiming custody was bad or wrong. In that case, luckily, the two women promised to work something out in the best interest of the infant.

In the Terri Schiavo case there can be no compromise. It’s either life or death for this once vivacious woman who now lives in what doctors call a &uot;persistent vegetative state.&uot; When I first heard about the case I had assumed she was brain dead and didn’t understand what the fuss was about (this was several years ago).

Now, of course, I understand that she is not brain dead. Brain dead means just what it sounds like: the person’s brain no longer functions. If you attach an electroencephalograph to the head of a brain dead patient, you discover there is no electrical activity. The person’s body lives, but only because machines pump the blood, provide oxygen, food and water. Because the brain is dead, there are no commands for the heart to beat, for the lungs to work, etc.

Persistent vegetative state, I’ve discovered, simply means that the cerebral cortex is dead. The brain stem, which keeps the heart and other organs functioning, still does what it’s supposed to do. The problem is that there are no cognitive abilities in the brain of the person. No one has ever come out of a persistent vegetative state.

With almost all of the medical doctors agreeing Terri Schiavo’s cortex is dead and that she can never have thoughts, dreams, fantasies, desires, or sensations, every court that has heard the case has sided with Michael Schiavo, her husband, that her feeding tube should be disconnected.

Her parents refuse to accept the diagnosis and still hold out hope that one day Mrs. Schiavo will be able to feel and think again, even if it is not at the same cognitive level she had before the heart attack.

I would never say anything negative about someone with hope. I remember the old Pandora story: that with all the evils in the world arrayed against us, all we have as consolation is hope. Of course, since that story predates Christianity, it is outdated. Faith, which is perhaps closely related to hope, is what keep many people from despair.

Either way, sometimes you just have to face reality, accept that the bad things have won a victory, grieve or despair, and then get on with your life.

I’m sorry that this family is having to go through this and I can’t blame her parents for pursuing every means at their disposal to stop what they consider the murder of their daughter, but you can’t just dismiss what the Florida courts have ruled.

All the judges that have heard this case aren’t crazed abortion- and euthanasia-loving liberal zealots who are out to prove they can kill folks legally. That’s just nuts. Almost all judges, whether they are conservative, liberal or somewhere in between, try to do the right thing. They might not interpret the Constitution the way you like every time, but if you look at rulings over the course of careers, you discover that the rulings in the vast majority of cases show compassion, wisdom and an interest in what is in the best interest of individuals and of society.

For political purposes, one of the things Republican politicians have done is paint the judiciary and filled with evil, people hating, society loathing monsters who want to separate people from God and who care nothing about life.

That’s just not true. A single judge in Florida might have made a bad decision. This case, however, has gone through the appellate process and has been heard by the Florida Supreme Court. All the courts and all the judges have reached the same conclusion based on the medical evidence presented to them.

Now, after a highly suspect political stunt, a federal judge and a three-judge appeals court has reached the same conclusion. It may get to the Supreme Court before Terri Schiavo’s body dies or there may be some other action that put the feeding tube back in, but the fact remains that all these various courts have found in favor of Mrs. Schiavo’s husband – not because there is some political payola for the ruling, but because the medical evidence supports his position and not that of her parents.

The federal judges have ruled, basically, that there is no evidence to support the parents’ contention that Mrs. Schiavo will make any progress. Ever.

This is not a matter of waiting out a dread illness until a cure can be found. The thinking and feeling parts of her brain are dead. There is no bringing them back.

What has happened to Terri Schiavo is a tragedy for her and her husband. What has happened since her cerebral cortex died has been even worse. I don’t like the idea of withholding food from someone, but there is no person left inside her brain or her body.

Decide for yourself what the wise decision would be. Make the moral judgment in accordance with what you know and with your beliefs. Even if you decide that she should be kept alive at all cost, that doesn’t mean the people who disagree with you, such as her husband, must therefore be evil.

There are some cases even Solomon wouldn’t be able adjudicate.