MDs and attitudes

March 15, 2005

I’m getting a lot of e-mail on my column about Terri Schiavo, the overwhelming majority of it quite positive. But I’m getting some negative, of two general types: 1) people who assume that Terri wants to die and that those of us advocating protecting her are substituting our will for Terri’s; 2) from a few doctors who think Terri’s life should be ended.

As for the first category, I would repeat that none of us know whether she wants to die, and hearsay testimony of her adulterous husband to that effect is woefully insufficient. I guarantee you she didn’t specify that she wanted to die in precisely the circumstances she’s currently experiencing. But how do these people know what she wants? Have they witnessed her facial expressions, her joy, her sorrow, her desire to live? Do they love her like her parents do? Do they really believe — like many of them imply — that Terri’s parents would force her to continue to live if they believed that she was a) suffering and/or b) didn’t want to live? How arrogant is that? Why do these people have such a callous attitude about life? Why do they rush to the conclusion that someone like Terri has lost the nearly irrepressible human desire to live?

Concerning the second category, I wonder if doctors become a little desensitized about life. Several medically trained correspondents told me that there is no suffering or pain associated with starving to death under these circumstances. I’m not sure how they know, but you can be sure that they are sure. A little humility would be in order in my opinion.