Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Purpose-Driven Death

My workweek has been frenetic and my exhaustion is compounded by a badly timed cold and the nocturnal demands of our beloved housecat, Tigerlily, who at twelve is developing chronic problems. I really need my sleep, but here I am blogging again about Terri Schiavo.

I think she and the Schindler family weigh so heavily on my heart because of my mother and my brother. As I wrote a few posts ago, my mother chose to die of dehydration and starvation. Suffering from kidney failure, she may have naturally died that way eventually but chose an early exit because of other serious health complications. She did not have many options left, but I was deeply concerned that she rushed right past them into the express lane speeding to what she was assured would be a quick, painless death. It wasn’t. Her last words were a cry for help, a cry of regret, a cry of pain and fear.

My brother Richard was born deaf and suffered brain damage due to a difficult forceps delivery. He has never been able to live independently and has been with us since my sister, his caretaker of many years, died unexpectedly 18 months ago. I cannot overstate how much he has influenced who I am and what I value.

I am awake in the early hours of Easter Sunday because writing helps me sort out my jumbled thoughts and emotions. Orson Scott Card is an author of science fiction and fantasy, none of which I have read, but I am awestruck by his gift for commentary. Writing with clarity is nearly impossible when overcome by emotion, as I have been reminded this week, and so my admiration is beyond measure for his simultaneously reasoned and heartfelt summary of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, Whose Life Is Worth Living?, that expresses my viewpoint more forcefully than I have thus far.

Yesterday, March 26, 2005, was the darkest, most depressing day yet for the movement to save Terri’s life. Still I was encouraged when Margaret Carlson of Capital Gang, faintly echoed by Al Hunt, declared that Michael Schiavo should have transferred Terri to the care of her parents. Such cross-partisan sentiments, also expressed publicly this week by Alan Dershowitz, David Boies and Lanny Davis among other prominent Democrats, belie recent polls indicating majority support for Michael Schiavo’s actions.

I would like to see the results of a poll asking this question:

You have a mentally disabled daughter with special needs but no life-threatening illness. You are willing, able and eager to provide the care that she requires. Her husband is already engaged to another woman with whom he has two young children. He will let your daughter die by withholding water and nourishment rather than relinquish her to your care. Should he be allowed to let her die?

That poll would never be commissioned because it strays into the realm of the moral and the mainstream media equate morality with hypocrisy. This is an excruciating moral dilemma but we live in a political world. On the flimsiest evidence, our judicial tradition of humanistic liberalism failed to protect the most vulnerable among us, a woman unable to defend herself. The remedy must come from the legislative and executive branches not always characterized by moral courage.

As much as embittered Democrats would like to make Tom DeLay the face of this controversy, the poster boys are Judge George Greer, Michael Schiavo and George Felos, a right-to-die zealot whose description yesterday of the dying Terri as more beautiful and peaceful than he has ever seen her in the eight years of their one-sided relationship defies credibility. He presumed to speak for the woman whose permanent silence he insured. “(I)f there's anything that I think Mrs. Schiavo would want is not only to die with dignity and peace, but to also have the country at peace over this matter. So as we are approaching Easter, I think Terri would want all of us to reflect on the impermanence of life and ask ourselves the questions, what's the purpose of my life?”

When asked about Michael, the client whose thoughts are his business to know and the only Schiavo for whom he has the legal right to speak, this exchange ensued:

QUESTION: Can you characterize what this experience has been like?

FELOS: Well, I really can't characterize how it's been like for Michael.

Does anyone else find this inconsistency odd?

In his press conference, Felos displayed an unperturbed certainty in the righteousness of his actions in surreal contrast to the unmistakable devastation of the family whose rights he stripped and whose hope he crushed. Bobby Schindler is a dignified, articulate advocate for his sister in life and I think he could be an effective advocate of national reform in her death in due time.

On the most hopeful day of the Christian calendar, I pray that the Schindlers find comfort in their own exhaustive diligence, in the power they hold to continue helping others, in the healing love of their savior’s waiting arms, in the knowledge that Terri will soon be free from the control of Michael Schiavo, as will they.

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