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Dignity has been lost in the case of Terri Schiavo

Published November 6, 2003

I have stood back and watched the events surrounding Terri Schiavo, and have come to the conclusion that there are a lot more "wrongs" than "rights" going on. I have watched in disgust as both sides have turned what should be a very private decision into a gut-wrenching circus. The real issue now for Terri Schiavo is not the "right to life" nor the "right to die." It is far more basic: It is the right to do either with some shred of dignity, and that has been lost forever.

Where is the dignity in parading her medical reports in front of the media? Where is the dignity in having videotaped snippets of the tortured life she now lives paraded in our living rooms? Where is the dignity in having the parents who gave her life denied the ability to show her affection now? Where is the dignity in having the man she loved enough to marry taunted as a murderer and threatened with his life? Where is the dignity in having political officials exploit her situation for coveted votes in a fast approaching election year? Where is the dignity in the chanting and slander between religious activists and the ACLU? There is none!

Whether Terri Schiavo dies in a day or a decade, her wishes, I am sure, have been violated by all concerned. She would have wished to have her mom and dad with her for comfort and for love. She would have wished for her husband to be loved by her parents and thought of as a good man by others. That's why she chose to marry him. She would have wished that the mention of her name stirred kind and gentle memories of who she was when she was truly "living," not the unleashing of a flood of hatred and controversy. She would have wished that, given her circumstance, the church would see the pain that both her husband and parents have endured and give them peace and loving counsel. True sanctity of life would fight to ensure the dignity, not just the life, of God's creation.

Every day, as a nurse, I work with families who must make the decision whether or not to withdraw life support. Palliative care ensures that these patients die peacefully and with dignity. They are not "brutally murdered" by those caring for them. If anything, they are given extra attention to see that every comfort need is met. They are not "euthanized" to hasten death. They are allowed to die - which is as sure a part of life as their birth - surrounded by the people they loved most, and remembered through tears of both joy and sadness for all that was right and good in their lives. Their families are drawn together, not torn apart. No one knows for sure whether Terri Schiavo wishes to live or die, but I am certain that the very things she would have wished for most have been destroyed.

-- Denise McGinley, R.N., St. Petersburg

Life shouldn't hang on meaningfulness

Re: Starving Terri is tantamount to murder.

Nat Hentoff's Oct. 30 column on Terri Schiavo was entirely on point. Indeed, while supporters of dignity for Ms. Schiavo speak of the integrity of the whole human person and respect for life, opponents of dignity for Ms. Schiavo come off as shrill and cold with their assertions that constantly ignore the fact that Florida was on the verge of starving a human being. Even though I do not generally support Gov. Jeb Bush or our Legislature, I applaud their well-intended actions in this case.

Far too many Americans agree with the New York Times editorial page when it stated, as quoted by Hentoff, that "true respect for life includes recognizing . . . when it ceases to be meaningful." Such a viewpoint is dangerous and filled with paths toward a barbaric American culture. As the youngest brother of an adult with mental disabilities, as well as the husband of a special educator, I have, quite literally, grown up around the mentally disabled. I have seen one too many individuals with mental disabilities, such as those with severe autism, who would not fit this elitist and ignorant view of what a "meaningful" life is. What are we to do with such persons? According to the inevitable result of the barbaric logic displayed by the New York Times, their life has ceased to be "meaningful" and, as our "me-centered" culture suggests, their existence is all too burdensome.

Our culture must recognize the holistic integrity of and respect for every human being. Every individual is endowed with rights that derive not from the state, but from God. No state - or hospital - can take away what it never gave in the first place. These rights are not dependent on disability or how "meaningful" the New York Times editorial board believes one's life is. Rather, these rights are dependent on the mere fact that we exist. It is fitting and proper that someone like Nat Hentoff, a civil libertarian who believes in the inalienable civil liberties and rights of all Americans, points out these facts. It is fitting because the debate over Terri Schiavo is not a debate to be led by extremists like Randall Terry of Operation Rescue. Rather, this is a debate over human rights and dignity. It is a debate that will never go away as long as the ignorant among us see those humans surrounding them who are different, or are a burden on society, as best left in the back alleys of our culture, where their existence cannot bother our conscience as we enjoy our "meaningful" lives.

-- Luis Viera, Temple Terrace

The courts have decided

In the Oct. 30 St. Petersburg Times, Nat Hentoff, self-anointed "authority on First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights," tells us nonauthorities that the removal of the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo is tantamount to murder.

Hentoff's modus operandi is to come to the conclusion that fits his prejudices and then carefully tailor the facts to support that conclusion. In his article, Hentoff quotes certain persons and publications that believe as he does. None of them are lawyers, although the ultimate question is legal.

The only legal authority mentioned by Hentoff is Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, conceded by Hentoff to be an eminent professor of constitutional law, who supports the decision of Michael Schiavo and every single court that decided the Terri Schiavo case, to remove Terri's feeding tube.

But, says Hentoff, other lawyers (unnamed by Hentoff) disagree. So what? In our system of government it is the courts that resolve disputes, not pandering politicians like Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother, the accidental president. The courts have done their unpleasant duty. That should end the matter.

-- Edward Cherney, Sun City Center

Husband should be removed as guardian

Michael Schiavo should be removed as Terri's guardian immediately. Every person deserves a guardian who has hope and love, but most of all, dedication. A disabled person especially needs all the encouragement, help, and patience one can muster. Even if Michael were not a man whose passions drive him to father children outside of his marriage, he clearly lacks dedication - unless you count doing everything he can to kill Terri.

Terri deserves every inalienable right enjoyed by every other American citizen: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She should not be forced to share her husband with another woman simply because she is disabled! Grant her a divorce, which is what she would probably seek anyway in this case. Protection from exploitation is what she deserves. Life and death decisions do not belong in the hands of an unfaithful, distracted man like this. He should be replaced by a brother and sister who love her and believe she can improve.

So what if she never recovers from where she is now? She is loved and life is worth living when you are loved. Look at what she has already taught the world. We cherish Terri just as she is. We will be amazed at all she has taught us before this is over. Likely we will all be more amazed about her progress with therapy.

It is unbelievable that any human being could be treated like this in America. I pray the courts give her back to those who truly love her. Otherwise, we, the people, will loathe such heart-wrenching treatment of our most vulnerable citizens who are in most need of protection. A country is only as good as it treats its weakest citizens.

-- D.K. Kuntz, Lutz

A pawn in a power struggle

Re: The power over life, death, Nov. 3.

May Terri Schiavo's family, Judge W. Douglas Baird and Gov. Jeb Bush all read of Tom Valeo's personal experience . . . and then may the holy spirit guide decisions made regarding Terri. She has become a pawn in an ugly struggle for power - and she is the loser. Too bad! So sad!

-- Barbara Purtee, Gulfport

An unfair comment on nursing homes

Lucy Morgan's Nov. 1 column, Keeping Politicians out of your final days, made me feel empathetic but discouraged. Having worked in nursing homes for the past 16 years, I have a very strong opinion regarding living wills and the right to refuse medical treatment. Members of the public expect their doctors to heal, repair and make things better. That is not always possible. When Morgan's mother was in a nursing home and the doctor wanted to prolong her life, she should have hired a doctor who would uphold her mother's wishes.

Most upsetting to me is Morgan's statement that "Nursing homes have a vested interest in keeping these patients alive and will often try to install a feeding tube." Over the years where I have worked, never has a decision been made by the nursing home to keep a person alive for financial gain. The staff I have worked with have always been empathetic to the human being we care for. Countless times the nursing homes have experienced a resident whose quality of life is compromised. They are sent to the hospital and return with a feeding tube. I can assure you that the staff, from administrator to nursing aides, are sickened knowing this person may live for years with no quality of life. Most always the staff hopes the family will not keep that person alive with a feeding tube because we, more than the family, see the quality of life left and know we would never want to be kept alive in that situation.

I think it is unfair of Lucy Morgan to print that statement affirming to the public that nursing homes would do something so despicable. I agree how important a living will is, but most important is the decision we each make regarding who is going to uphold our wishes when we cannot make our wishes known. The individual chosen as your representative needs to understand and follow through without any feelings of regret or guilt. I agree with Morgan about encouraging the public to follow through on these important documents. The public needs to be aware that these documents direct the doctor and caregivers, not vice versa.

-- Pat Goldschmidt, Palm Harbor

Hospice staff keeps on serving

We wish to commend the staff at Hospice House Woodside. Amid unending attempts at disruption by protesters expressing their views on the Terri Schiavo case, amid excessive media "hype," and amid unfortunate political grandstanding, these folks have day after day, night after night, continued to serve approximately 70 patients and their families. We applaud the staff for persisting and succeeding in offering efficient and compassionate care to all of their residents.

-- Pat and Bob Sargent, Madeira Beach

Worthy newspapers

We subscribe to and read both the daily Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. Recently we were fortunate to have experienced a 9,200-mile trip around middle America. At every city or town where we spent the night, we purchased the local newspaper. Most were deplorable in coverage and content. None, in our estimation, reached the quality of reporting to which we are accustomed. Thank you.

-- Bobbie and Sam Ward, Land O'Lakes

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Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. They can be sent by fax to 727 893-8675 or by e-mail to (no attachments, please).

They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number.

Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length.

[Last modified November 6, 2003, 03:47:10]


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