More Prayers For Terri

March 22, 2005

Just what is it that so earnestly motivates those who zealously want Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube to be removed? While there are plenty of exceptions, I dare say that most people in this camp are not driven by constitutional concerns, despite their hollow protests to the contrary.

As my brother Rush cogently noted, it is easy to understand what drives those who want to save Terri’s life: the human urge to protect and save the life of another human being. The motivation of those fighting with equal fervor to remove the tube is not so self-evident.

The more I read about this case, the more it weighs on me — the more a creeping feeling of horror sweeps over me. If, in fact, Terri Schiavo wants to live and is going to be denied that right, the prospect of a court-ordered removal of her feeding tube is no less horrifying than that of a person being buried alive.

If Terri truly wants to live — as a lawyer visiting with her when her feeding tube was removed avers — how could any caring person wish death upon her? The question is not whether we think we would want to live in Terri’s state, but whether in fact she wants to. Are those advocating Terri’s death allowing themselves to consider that this woman truly wants to live — just like they do?

I doubt that I’ll ever be able to understand, much less relate to, the sympathies of certain people. Generally speaking, they seem to feel more compassion for wildlife than animals, more for animals than human beings, more for guilty human beings than innocent ones, more for Communist dictators and tyrannical thugs than freedom fighters, and more for the vindication of an abstract principle devaluing human life than for an actual human being like Terri Schiavo, who, though severely disabled, may truly want to live.

How can we possibly view in a favorable light the position of those who protest to save the lives of convicted killers on death row and who bend over backward to believe their most incredible stories of innocence, but won’t lift a finger in support of Terri Schiavo and won’t even momentarily consider that Terri wants to live? Where are the “Free Mumia” chanters when Terri needs them?

I realize that some believe that many advocating for Terri’s life are using her for their own political purposes and that even Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, are putting their own selfish wishes to keep Terri alive above those of Terri herself.

But do we actually believe that loving parents — parents who would eagerly trade places with Terri in an instant — would place their own comfort above their daughter’s? If not, how can we possibly believe they would fight to prolong her suffering? In examining this case from a distance, isn’t it much easier to believe Terri’s parents’ assessment of her desire to continue living than that of her adulterous husband, whose conflict of interest should disqualify him from guardianship in this case and participation in this decision?

And isn’t the essential argument of those wanting the tube removed that Terri’s wishes ought to be honored? Since Terri left no legal document directing her death in these circumstances, shouldn’t the system require clear and convincing evidence that Terri indeed would want to die in these circumstances? Yet the court is relying on the hearsay evidence of Terri’s estranged husband, Michael.

The question is whether as a society we want to resolve these very difficult, doubtful cases in favor of death.

I detect more than a bit of intellectual dishonesty among many favoring Terri’s death. They are claiming they merely want to honor Terri’s wishes, yet they rely on her tainted husband, callously discount the testimony of her loving parents, blindly accept the disinformation that Terri is in a purely vegetative state, and ignore multiple firsthand accounts, including from examining physicians and nurses, that Terri is responsive, sometimes animated, and definitely wants to go on living.

Could it be that something besides Terri’s wishes motivates many of the death-soldiers, such as an allegiance to the culture of death, or some abject, inhumane resentment that we spend so much money keeping severely disabled people alive? I’ve received appalling e-mails from people complaining about the financial burden on society in keeping Terri alive.

I’m not pointing fingers at anyone specifically, because I know that many who want the tube removed are motivated by their perceived compassion for Terri and even honoring Terri’s wishes. But I fear that many arguing for tube removal are doing so with complete disregard for Terri’s actual wishes in this case. To the extent that is going on, we are witnessing up-close the face of evil.

We must fight on … More prayers for Terri.