bitter sanity

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

[posted by jaed at 5:03 PM]
Theresa Schiavo: Arguments in favor (I)
First, some quick facts as I have gleaned them, to provide a basis for continuing:
  • Everyone (who has actual knowledge of the case) agrees that Theresa Schiavo is not brain-dead. Brain death has a specific legal meaning: it means cessation of all brain activity. A brain-dead body cannot be kept going, heart beating, etc. without extreme medical intervention, including a ventilator. A brain-dead body cannot be kept going for long even with such intervention. Brain-dead bodies do not normally move or vocalize. Brain death is also legal death: if Theresa Schiavo were brain-dead, there would be no legal question about her death because she'd already be dead.
  • Everyone agrees (I think) that she is not in a coma.
  • Everyone agrees that she has severe brain damage.
  • Whether she is in a persistent vegetative state - a permanent state of unawareness of her surroundings, and no cognitive activity - is in dispute.
  • Everyone agrees that she did not write down her wishes for and against medical treatment should she become disabled or ill.
  • Whether she expressed a wish to be taken off medical treatment in these circumstances is in dispute.
  • Whether she might be able to benefit from therapy, and recover some additional capacity for thought and interaction, is in dispute.
  • Everyone agrees that she does not require extraordinary measures to keep her alive (she is not on a ventilator, respirator, or similar machinery).
  • Whether she is able to eat normally, or would be if given standard swallowing therapy, is in dispute.
  • Everyone agrees that she is more or less healthy apart from her brain injury, that she has no terminal disease or condition, and that if fed, she could live a normal lifespan.
  • Everyone agrees that if she is not given food and water soon, she will die of thirst.
The arguments in favor of denying food and water and letting Theresa Schiavo die of thirst can be boiled down to three: that this action is in deference to her right to refuse medical treatment, that the wishes of her next of kin should control, and that the degree of her disability has made her into something other than a person. One, as I see it, is compatible with a basic dedication to constitutional principles of autonomy and the guarantee of the right to life; the other two do not seem to be, but are often put forward, either independently or in support of a position based on the first argument.

(continued in Part II)

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