Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Live and Let Die: Terry Shiavo and Sadistic Society

Many years before my mom died, when it still seemed like something that could never happen, she made me promise to pull the plug should the occasion ever arise. Our discussion went even beyond that, but suffice it to say that promises were made. Dr. Kevorkian was constantly in the headlines at the time. Both Doris and I agreed that he was in the right. Later, I came to believe that Kevorkian is a bit deranged, but that didn't change my overall belief that we should allow one another the right to die with dignity, whether via assisted suicide or when we're simply unable to make decisions for ourselves.

Every several years or so, another high profile case takes the stage. Now it's all about Terry Shiavo. To be honest, I haven't been following the story all that closely, and the little I do know makes me sad and sick at the same time. I can sympathize with the husband, and I can sympathize with the parents. However, if I had to choose, I'd side with the husband. 15 years is a bloody long time. In discussing it earlier today, a coworker said "but the parents have a point. She's their baby, and they feel like she can recognize them."

As I let that sink in, I thought about how much people love their pets. I could be wrong, but I think non-pet owners are probably in the minority in San Francisco. I have seen friends take on untold financial and emotional burdens in efforts to save their pets. People here even refer to themselves as the "parents" of these creatures, and I believe the bond of love is real and perhaps stronger in a way than connections between humans. That said, I can't imagine that many people would prefer to have Fluffy or Fido on life support for 15 years rather than letting them go. I dunno. Just a thought.

Another one: I opined to someone today that these kind of questions wouldn't even arise in most indigenous or "Third World" countries. Her response was "well, of course—because they don't have the technology," but I shook my head. Even if they did, they wouldn't use it the way we do because they have a greater respect for and spiritual understanding of the process of death and what happens to the being inside the body. Someone else countered, "But you're not talking about Christians." Can of many worms there—but my singular response was that if you're Christian, and you believe in the existence of "heaven" why would you want to keep someone you love from it? Won't she end up in "a better place" and won't we say "at least he's not suffering anymore." We are sadists to keep people trapped here, whether or not there's an afterlife.

In such a selfish, emotionally stunted, and denial-oriented culture, it's hard to tell whether abundance and technological progress has made us so or whether it's culturally innate. I think it was courageous of Shiavo's husband ask why Congress has taken up this mantle rather than worrying about health insurance or other domestic issues.

I feel for the parents but in my opinion, but hoping for rehabilitation after a decade and a half is a bit mental if you ask me. Keeping her alive could through technology could even be conceived as abusive if you believe technology is cold and cruel. Unless she's disabled rather than being in a vegetative state.

Regardless, let's say they pull the feeding tube that's keeping Shiavo alive. Then her body will engage itself in a slow and what is known to be a painful process of deterioration until she finally dies, despite the painstaking methods we contrive to dispatch of convicted felons as quickly and painlessly as possible. Humanely. So if Shiavo had been incarcerted by the criminal justice system instead of by her nervous system, and she'd spent 15 years on Death Row, we'd at least attempt to make the experience as benign as possible.

Nothing is clear cut about these issues. It's easy to hopscotch among the different viewpoints, and piggybacking on what I said yesterday, it's easy to proclaim what I would do if I were involved directly. It was even easier than I thought it'd be to make those promises to my mother, though whether I could really have followed through will remain unknown. Given the difficulty of sifting through the values, obligations, and impacts that feed into moral decision-making for one person, one family—how do we decide for a nation?


Anonymous alienboy said...

posted by alienboy on on March 24, 2005 05:11 AM:

Hi mpho,

Delighted to report that I find myself in total agreement with you.

This should be a decision for the family, and in this case, the PRIMARY family unit is Terry Schiavo and her husband. Sure, her parents have the right to their point of view, and I'm sure they love their daughter so very deeply, but it's time to let her go...

10:37 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

posted by mpho on on March 25, 2005 12:03 AM:

Alienboy, I share in your delight. World peace must be right around the corner :) Seriously, it's a very sad situation but maybe it's good that it's in the public consciousness I think....

10:37 PM  
Anonymous alienboy said...

posted by alienboy on on March 25, 2005 07:50 AM:

Just a thought, when did the land of the free develop this interfering busybody habit?

Everybody seems to want to tell everybody else what to do, rather than concentrate on sorting out their own problems.

Who needs a nanny state when you've got a nanny population?

10:38 PM  

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