Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Right to Life

The Right to Life...
Who Decides and How?-Amal Chaaban

In these days of modern technology where almost anything is possible, medical science can do many wonderful things. One of the things medical science cannot do however is reverse brain damage caused by lack of oxygen.

This lack of ability has been highlighted recently due to the case of a woman out of Florida named Terri Schiavo. Terri Schiavo is a woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state since a heart attack in 1990. In essence, Terri Schiavo has been brain dead for the last 15 years. She is only physically alive because she has a feeding tube inserted into her stomach to keep her alive. Her husband has been lobbying unsuccessfully for the last couple of years to have her feeding tube removed to allow her to die in dignity. Her family has been at the other end blocking him successfully every time to keep her alive. The last time this woman was in the news, Florida Governor Jeb Bush interfered personally to make sure that her feeding tube was reinserted thus not just blurring the line between church and state but erasing it completely.

Terri Schiavo is now at the centre of a debate about the right to life. This is not a debate about abortion as many would think hearing the words “right to life”, it is in fact a debate about euthanasia and to a lesser extent, assisted suicide because it is the same people who are saying that both are murder and not a humane way to allow people to die with dignity. Assuredly, Schiavo’s case is not one of assisted suicide but one of euthanasia.

Michael Schiavo (Terri’s husband) is arguing that Terri would not have wanted to live this way and that removing the tube would have been in accordance with her wishes (though she had no living will so this is purely speculation on his part) since she is in what experts term a “persistent vegetative state” with rehabilitation not a possibility.

Terri’s parents (Bob and Mary Schindler) disagree based on a videotape they have of Terri where it appears that she may be responding to stimuli and the doctors they have hired say that Terri may be rehabilitated to the point where she can swallow on her own. This opinion directly contradicts the opinion of the Doctors that Michael has hired. This is where the debates and the countless court battles started.

Now the Schiavo case has become a mainstay on the Right to Life circuit with people calling Michael Schiavo a murderer. Michael Schiavo has recently won yet another court battle to have the feeding tube in his wife removed and this time no less than the Republican led United States Congress has moved to intervene and force Schiavo to have the tube replaced. Even Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (r) has entered the fray first viewing the video at the centre of the Schindler’s case then stating "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli.”

In the end, Terri Schiavo’s case is bigger than just her rights. Her enforced life or her enforced death will bring about a spate of laws and rulings that will have far reaching effects. The most important question to be asked is “who has the right to decide who lives or dies?”. This is the crux of the entire issue surrounding Schiavo and it is the crux of all the future cases that will come up. Is it the parents? The husband? Are they qualified medically and emotionally? Is it the courts? The religious right? The liberal left? The medical community; or, should it simply be left to natural selection as many say God intended when he created man.

There are no easy answers, no rights or wrongs in a case this emotional. There is simply the debate and in Schiavo’s case, the wait. It is easy for those not involved emotionally to say yes or no, to agree or to disagree but can one really say what one would do if it were their loved one? Probably not. When so much emotion is involved, medical science, logic, religion all fly right out the window. While the religious right is using the Schiavo case to highlight their agenda, Bob and Mary Schindler are fighting to keep their daughter alive. For them, it is not about law, it is not about logic, it is all about their daughter and the deep and abiding love they have for her. In her husband’s case, it is the same, he truly believes that she would not have wanted to live this way. In the end, all both parties can do is wait and see who has the right to choose whether or not Schiavo dies.


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