Schiavo Has Died, But the Right's Rage Lives On

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Schiavo Has Died, But the Right's Rage Lives On

On the website of the conservative publication Human Events, Adam Rickel has written an article about the case of now-deceased Terri Schiavo that carries this completely over-the-top, hysterical headline: "Judge Greer, Would You Have Killed My Brother Too?"

From the information that Rickel shares, it appears that he is using his own family trauma to launch an invective against Judge Greer. But from what Rickel has written, the analogy seems weak. Rickel lays out the case of his brother who, he says, had so much in common with Terri:
... every time I see a picture of Terri I am reminded of my brother.

Like Terri, my brother could not feed or take care of himself in any way. Like Terri, there were moments when he could react to someone's voice or presence. Like Terri, my brother did not have a living will. Like Terri, my family had to face the questions and even accusations that my brother's life was not worth the effort and expense.
But after reading Rickel's article, I quickly suspected that he was telling an incomplete story for a reason -- the analogy probably didn't fit.

Yes, both Schiavo and Rickel's brother lacked living wills. That's quite clear. But the blank that Rickel never bothers to fill in is whether his brother had ever indicated to his family what he felt about the use of extraordinary measures to extend his life.

If his brother was as conservative as Rickel is on this issue, my guess is that the brother would have had no problem with the use of extraordinary measures. If so, in the Rickel family's case, both liberals and conservatives would have no objection to the decision that the family made -- as Rickel explains:
My brother never once lifted himself from his bed, but I learned the value of serving our fellow man as I lifted him up. My brother never fed himself, but I learned what it meant to feed those less fortunate.
As is well known at this point, Schiavo's husband has successfully convinced various courts that his wife had made it clear through prior remarks that she would not want to live in a vegetative state. A few others have backed up Schiavo's husband on this point.

Some people may believe that states should require explicit language in a living will before cutting off a respirator or feeding tube. And they're entitled to that point of view. But, for now anyway, Florida law seems to allow courts to consider other expressions (even second-hand reports) of an individual's wishes vis-a-vis extraordinary measures.

The patient's wishes, in other words, were always central to the Schiavo case. Rickel's brother may never have expressed personal wishes about the use of extraordinary measures, but Rickel conveniently sidesteps what was perhaps the major issue in this case. In fact, he doesn't even address the issue.

I don't see this case as a simple, black-and-white issue. I think a legitimate argument can be made that states might want to set the bar a little higher in determining when respirators or feeding tubes are shut off. But Rickel's diatribe against Greer is devoid of serious ethical or intellectual analysis.

Of course, the same can be said for much of what appears on Human Events' website.

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