Terri Schiavo: Revisited

From the pages of “Duh!” magazine (really an AP article) comes a report where Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who happens to be a medical doctor, admits that the American people thought he was wrong when he called for more examination of Terri Schiavo, the woman who died in March after a long court case. She was brain damaged and kept alive by a feeding tube and her husband wanted to end her life as she had wanted. Terri’s parents sued to prevent the action. In one dubious action, Congress passed a law allowing a Federal court to hear the case. That court sided with the state court who had ruled in favor of the husband.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” [01/29/06], Frist defended his decision to call for more examination of the brain-damaged Florida woman toward the end of a bitter family feud over her treatment.

But Frist says he learned Americans don’t want that kind of involvement in those decisions.

Frist: Schiavo case taught him that people don’t want government involved

Congress’ involvement in what was a state case was unprecedented and stemmed from the influence of religious conservatives. In the Christian religion, ending ones life is considered a sin and religious conservatives went insane when the Schiavo case came up.

Religious conservatives do that a lot. They want to maintain a life at all costs, ignoring reality, and this case ignoring medical professionals. Schiavo wasn’t alive when she died. She was just a breathing bag of goo assisted with a feeding tube.

Microscopic examination revealed extensive damage to nearly all brain regions, including the cerebral cortex, the thalami, the basal ganglia, the hippocampus, the cerebellum, and the midbrain. The neuropathologic changes in her brain were precisely of the type seen in patients who enter a PVS following cardiac arrest. Throughout the cerebral cortex, the large pyramidal neurons that comprise some 70 percent of cortical cells—critical to the functioning of the cortex—were completely lost. The pattern of damage to the cortex, with injury tending to worsen from the front of the cortex to the back, is also typical. There was marked damage to important relay circuits deep in the brain (the thalami)—another common pathologic hallmark of PVS. The damage was, in the words of Thogmartin, “irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons.”

In the case of Terri Schiavo, seven of the eight neurologists who examined her in her last years stated that she met the clinical criteria for PVS; the serial CT scans, EEGs, the one MRI, and finally, the pathologic findings, were consistent with that diagnosis.

Terri Schiavo

Lest you think we seculars don’t “value human life,” we do value human life. We just have a problem with religious conservatives using the government to force their belief of what life is on people. They don’t seem to care about the results of their agenda, only about forcing their agenda on others.

It reminds me of the scene in the Monty Python film “The Meaning Life” where a working man comes home to a house full of children and he has a problem. He lost his job and will have to sell some kids for scientific experiments in order to feed and clothe the rest of the brood. The kids ask why he couldn’t wear a condom, but the man says that to do so would go against their Catholic faith. He then explains, through song, that in the eyes of God, every sperm is sacred and can’t be wasted. If sperm were to be wasted, God would seek revenge.

Although the scene is from a comedy, it highlights that even though the man has too many children to care for, he can’t wear a condom because God would be mad.

Some religious people are against people having the right to make their own end of life decisions because they believe a person’s death is in God’s hands or is God’s will.

There are a couple of problems with that view.

One is that medical technology has expanded so much, even in the last 50 years, that people who would have died without a machine can “live” for many years. If God was so important in the equation, don’t you think such life continuation wouldn’t work.

Second, some religious teachings call for a person to go to heaven. Their goal is to get to the “afterlife” and it is far more important than their current life. Pretty ironic when compared to the reaction the Schiavo case.

There is another view of the case.

Father Frank Pavone had this to say in response to the release of the Terri Schiavo autopsy:

The autopsy goes on to say that Terri’s brain was “profoundly atrophied,” and only half the normal size. Fine. If that’s what the experts tell us, there is no problem believing them. But what does that mean, that she was only half-human, only half a person, or that she had only half the rights that the rest of us have? That is the conclusion that we must never accept. That is a conclusion that does not come from an autopsy, but from a callous disregard for human life.

Atrophy of Compassion

I agree with Father Pavone. We need to protect those less able to protect themselves. Terri Schiavo didn’t die on a whim or because she became a burden to her family. Her husband followed the law in requesting that her wish to die be allowed. A trial with witnesses was held. The court appointed an advocate to represent Terri and the judge considered the evidence presented. That was in 2000. The appeals from her parents went on for several more years. Schiavo’s rights were protected as any able body person is protected.

Father Pavone still calls the death of Schiavo a murder. An unlawful killing is murder. It is also interesting that the document I pulled the quote from is in a section called Euthanasia. Some like Father Pavone equate Euthanasia with murder. They believe any killing done by another is murder.

He ignores the reality of such situations to further is own agenda.


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  1. February 3, 2006

    While the situation was emotional and certainly people had different views, the point really was that it was not about ‘our’views or the views of those protesting her death. I think many of us watched the arguments very carefully because the implications for other areas of ‘agenda’ were fairly obvious. That said, for the family’s sake I can understand the desire to keep a loved one ‘alive’. But on the other, we define marital relationships such that it was legally her husband’s call and this is true of many cases. Thats part of the notion of a health care designee.
    Thank you for the excellent description of the positions and how they relate to the ways theocons seek to assert their views.

  2. The T
    April 2, 2006

    I would like to comment on the Terry Schiavo case.

    When heard about the Schiavo case, I had one question to ask, how much is this going to cost me as a taxpayer.

    I really could care less about the opinion of the church or any religious leaders, because their opinion, didn’t cost me any money.

    If I don’t agree with the church, I just ignore them, FOR FREE, but Michael’s choice cost me and all the rest of American taxpayer money, and I don’t like it.

    At least with the church, I have the choice whether or not to give them money (and I choose not to, by the way), but with the death of Terry Schiavo,I had no choice. My tax paying dollars afforded Michael Schiavo the luxury of police escorts, along with other costs that could have been avoided if we would have just let Terry’s parent take care of her at their own cost.

    Now, maybe the rest of America doesn’t mind footing the bill for Michael’s decision, but I don’t like it and I would like to know if Michael Schiavo could reimburse me for the tax dollars I spent for him to have his wife taken off of life support.

    Do you know what the major difference is between church and state?

    Free Choice.

    People have the right to choose whether or not to attend church, if you don’t like church, do what I do, just don’t go. It isn’t that difficult, just refrain from attending and if you don’t like the opinion of the church, then just ignore it.

    Obviously, it sure isn’t the church that has the power of life or death in their hands it’s our government.

    All these people that want to run around crying about religious groups and opinions of the church need to wake up and consider the fact that the church has no control over anyone, they don’t even have really good control over themselves, so what threat are they to anyone else????

    No one goes to jail for lack of contribution to the church, but you better believe that on top of penalty and interest, jail time is in store for those who don’t pay the government.

    Think about it.

    The T

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