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In Schiavo case, we should lean toward saving life

Published October 29, 2003

We have had a real civics lesson in the Terri Schiavo case. The legality/illegality of an act does not necessarily correspond to its morality/immorality. I doubt that the intervention of the Legislature and governor will pass constitutional muster. I do not doubt that they made the right decision.

Much has been made of a so-called "right to die." What about the right to live? Absent a declaration of one's wishes, e.g., a living will/advance care directive, the law requires that the decision goes to the next of kin. First comes the spouse, then the mother.

The parents of Terri Schiavo have consistently cast doubt on their daughter's spouse's capacity to act on/determine her wishes. The courts have repeatedly said it is his decision. The governor and Legislature have said otherwise. Absent a declaration from her, how much certainty can an outsider feel in this matter? If one is to err, I believe it is best to err on the side of life.

As a culture, we have become fixated on the many advantages of dying. Can we not see the advantages of living? No one should be forced to suffer needlessly in a state of hopelessness. What of a twilight awareness without pain or pleasure, of little or no noticeable interaction with one's surroundings? Some would say, "what point to such a life?" Cannot the point of living be merely to live?

We cannot know what Terri Schiavo is experiencing. Joy? Sorrow? We cannot know her wishes with certainty. Death seems so irreversible. If we err, let it be in saving, not ending life.

This case evokes powerful emotions about a decision that one can make only for oneself. I urge anyone who believes in self-determination to inquire about a living will as soon as possible.

-- Philipp Michel "Mike" Reichold, Largo

She is existing, not living

Once again, poor Terri Schiavo has been subjected to the prying media and misguided supporters who refuse to let her die with any amount of dignity. The courts have determined, after extensive research, that her condition is irreversible. This means that she is existing, not living - there is a vast difference.

In the light of the media attention, our Legislature and governor have seen fit to deny her right to a quiet and peaceful death. This act of grandstanding on their part will surely come back to bite them in the behind. The "law" they passed will be determined unconstitutional and whole process will begin again. Terri and her family will be subjected to more media coverage and court battles. In the end the fact will remain, she is in a vegetative state and will never regain consciousness.

These people who wish her to continue this existence profess to be Christians. If they do in fact believe in God and heaven, why would they commit Terri to this horrible fate on earth and deny her the opportunity of being with her God in heaven? What a selfish act on their part. Would they choose this fate for themselves?

-- Sandra Potter, Brooksville

Let her go back to her parents

Re: Schiavo: "Nothing's going to stop me," Oct. 28.

After watching Michael Schiavo on Larry King Live, reading this article and seeing the video tapes over the last few weeks, I must wonder if Terri Schiavo didn't want to respond to her husband for one reason or another. She clearly responds to her family. When Larry King asked Schiavo to take a lie detector test, he squirmed and refused. Why?

King also raised the question of divorce, something many have asked. Schiavo has a new family and, for reasons unexplained, he won't divorce Terri and let her parents take care of her. Why? Those who brought her into this world want her back so they can take care of her, something any parent should be allowed to do. If Michael Schiavo really loves Terri, he would let her go back to her parents.

-- Jackie Miller, St. Petersburg

It's no way to live

Terri Schiavo has been this way for 13 years. She is not in a coma, she will not miraculously wake up. She has brain damage. I would like everyone to look at her and think to themselves: "Would I want to live like that?" I know I wouldn't. That is not a life. She can't do anything. She doesn't see or comprehend what is going on around her. I think her family wants to keep her alive for themselves, not for her. After all, kids are not supposed to die before parents.

-- Margaret Braden, Brooksville

Diverse groups worked for Terri

Re: The political agendas of strangers confiscate Terri Schiavo's life, by Mary Jo Melone, Oct. 23.

Mary Jo Melone's column got it wrong from the title onward. Terri Schiavo's life was being "confiscated," or stolen, by her husband's unilateral desire to end it, against her parents' desires.

Melone credits Republicans and the "far, so-called Christian, right" with pressuring the Florida Legislature to reinstate Mrs. Schiavo's feeding and hydration. This is not the full story. The Legislature was responding to pressure from diverse groups, and many of them are in fact centrist (such as the National Organization on Disability) or even perceived to be to the left (such the activist disability rights group Not Dead Yet), and many were not religiously affiliated.

The real Terri Schiavo was documented on a video her parents made, which surely played a key role in inspiring the legislators to act. While she cannot speak, the video communicated powerfully that Mrs. Schiavo is not, as has been frequently reported, in a coma. She is awake and there is reason to believe that she feels and senses. She smiles, she cries. She breathes without assistance. No, she cannot feed herself, but that is not a reasonable litmus test. Neither can Dr. Stephen Hawking.

Melone paints an image of a compassionate Michael Schiavo holding his wife's hand, while her parents and the government pull at her feet. From what we know, this is the opposite of reality. When he takes a break from fighting tooth and nail to end his wife's life against her parents' wishes, Michael Schiavo is said to be holding the hand of another woman, whom he calls his "fiancee."

Melone says, ". . . the latest turn of events is what constitutes abuse. She is being kept alive for use as a powerful icon in the prolife political game." For members of the disability community, this is a bizarre statement. How could it be more abusive to keep someone who is not in pain alive than it is to starve her to death? Of course, many people who have not had disabilities say they would rather be dead than live with a disability. Often, their views change when they learn that life with a disability is different, but often rewarding. But even those who might truly wish to die would surely not wish to do so by being denied food and water.

It's a relief that Florida's legislators and governor responded. Because any of us could be in Terri Schiavo's shoes tomorrow.

-- Brewster Thackeray, vice president, National Organization on Disability, Washington, D.C.

She's being used as a pawn

Re: The political agendas of strangers confiscate Terri Schiavo's life.

After reading Mary Jo Melone's column on the plight of Terri Schiavo and her family, my views on this entire ludicrous situation were further strengthened. The state government was completely out of order by passing a "law" to change Terri's situation. The courts had already made a decision to remove the feeding tube and permit Terri to have her right to meet her maker. She has lain for 13 years in a vegetative state being used as a pawn by her family and "right to life" groups. Terri has the right to die. Terri's loss will be devastating to her family and her husband, but to force her to "exist" in her present state is criminal and cruel. It is time to let Terri go, let her go to a better place - now.

-- George W. Pinfield, Clearwater

Don't mix up issues

Re: A poor use of state funds, letter, Oct. 23.

How scary for me to read this letter regarding Terri Schiavo. The letter writer, a teacher, talks about "wasted money for an invalid unable to care for herself" and how he would choose to use the money for his students whose "future is much brighter." The first thought that comes to mind is that he couldn't be a history teacher, because there was a time in history when this type of opinion was held by someone named Hitler. Who is he to decide her life is "wasted"? Even scarier to realize that he teaches children with "special" needs, a position that would require a person of great compassion and great patience and hopes for their futures.

Let's not confuse the right to life with the poor funding of our public schools - Terri's death would not improve his classroom.

-- Deborah Smith, New Port Richey

The cause of her condition

Re: The lost lesson of Terri Schiavo, by Gary D. Fox, Oct. 26.

This was an excellent article. This is the first time I have read how/why Terri's heart attack occurred. I think the public should be aware that she suffered from bulimia nervosa. This is what caused her heart attack that lead to brain damage. Her electrolyte balance was messed up from purging so much. By the time the fire rescue arrived she had been deprived of oxygen long enough to produce catastrophic brain damage.

The poor girl has been gone too long. Let her soul to go God now.

-- Betty J. Southard, Clearwater

A boost for living wills

I don't know what the Terry Schiavo dispute is about. Is it a family feud, money, an honest difference of opinion, a mother's love, a husband's sense of responsibility or both parties trying to divine God's will? I do know it is none of my business. However, I have an opinion like everyone else.

The argument about whether to remove the feeding tube seems to be swirling around whether Terri Schiavo is responsive and therefore has some consciousness or is in a complete vegetative state.

In my opinion, the only thing worse than being kept alive in a comatose state without awareness for 13 years would be being kept alive in such a state with awareness. What a living hell that would be. I can't imagine making one of my loved ones "live" that way.

It seems to me the only good thing to come out of this media circus is that more people are making out their own living wills. Do you think many of them are asking to be kept on ventilators and feeding tubes for years and years?

-- Doris Whelan, St. Petersburg

Lawsuits can get in the way

In light of the Terri Schiavo case, many people are seeking a living will - to be allowed to die peaceably and not suffer. Little do they know that living wills often don't work. The reason: lawsuits.

Hospitals and doctors are afraid of being sued and do everything they can to keep people alive whether they have a living will or not. What happens is exactly what is taking place now. A family member can object to a loved one being allowed to die. The living will is disregarded and that person is made to suffer more.

This happens all the time. Until the laws change - preventing anyone from challenging the living will and suing the hospital or doctor - it will continue to happen.

-- Dave Bothwell, Seminole

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[Last modified October 29, 2003, 01:49:08]


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