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Rantings of a Sandmonkey

Be forewarned: The writer of this blog is an extremely cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled sandmonkey. If this is your cup of tea, please enjoy your stay here. If not, please sod off

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Right to Kill

I have been following for some time with some interest the case of Terri Schiavo , although not with the kind of zeal some people , including Kender, have shown and expressed. I think partly it’s because the case isn’t being played or shown in the media over here at all, and partly because I was always seriously allergic to the real-live soap-opera quality that the American media makes of some of these legal cases ever since OJ’s trial. My allergy developed the moment I’ve heard black people being happy about OJ being acquitted not because they thought he was innocent- most of them know he is guilty as sin- but rather because it showed white people that the legal system that imprisons so many black men is flawed and provided enough money can be beaten. That was the nature of their moral victory, and attaining justice for OJ’s wife’s murder be damned. From that moment on, I have chosen never to take a single hyped trial-starting with Chandra Levy, to Michael Jackson, to Scott Peterson, and ending with Martha freakin Stewart- seriously. And as far as I was concerned, the Shiavo’s case was in that same category, and therefore shouldn’t be followed. I know, its not fair to lump and blah blah, but whatever, sue me. Despite all that, some things in this particular case has been kinda urging me to break this rule and pay attention. Now , I have to admit I ended up giving in just this once. The case, if you are not familiar with it because you live under a rock in the states or happen to be a non-US resident, deals with the legal battle between Terri’s Husband and Terris’s parents to let him remove her feeding tube. In 1990 at 26-years of age, Terri collapsed in her home when her heart temporarily stopped, cutting off oxygen to her brain and leaving her severely brain damaged. She has been mentally disabled ever since, and in need of a feeding tube to feed. Her Husband , 8 years later, decided to petition the courts to have her feeding tube removed, claiming that Terri told him that she did not want life-sustaining intervention in the event of her incapacitation. He won the right to do so, and Terri’s parents have been suing and appealing a storm trying to revoke the court ruling that would cause Terri to dehydrate and starve to death. Now, let me be clear about one thing before I go any further, and it’s something you may not know about me: I am pro Death. Let me explain before you jump into any conclusions: I am pro capital punishment, I am pro suicide, I am pro assisted suicide, I am pro anything that would keep the freeway moving faster. That’s just me. I can’t understand a Left that is against capital punishment but is pro euthanasia and can’t understand a right that is pro capital punishment and is against euthanasia ( Notice how I completely avoided the topic of abortion? Yeah, not going there at all). You are either for death or not, it’s that simple in my book. So naturally, the impulsive and stupid among you will jump to the conclusion that I am for Terri’s death. Wrong! Even though I am pro Death, I am not pro-Murder, and that’s the category I believe this particular case falls in. You see, here is the thing: The whole Terri deal is suspect for many reasons. First of all, in 1992 her husband, Michael, won a medical malpractice lawsuit after claiming that doctors failed to diagnose the chemical imbalance that caused the heart attack. The court awarded approximately $1 million in damages with $300,000 to Michael for his loss and another $700,000 to Michael for Terri’s guardianship and care. Then, Instead of using the money for her treatment, he placed her in a nursing home where Medicare took care of the majority of the expenses. Secondly, all during that trial he never once remembered Terri’s desire to die. He only recalled it 8 years later, after dating another woman whom he now has 2 kids from. He also refused to allow her parents to gain legal rights to her care of divorce her, because it would mean that he would have to give up the trust money. Once the case became public and widely know, he was offered to divorce her and get to keep the money, but he naturally refused, because it would certify his status as a grade A scumbag. Finally, the man and the judge refused to do a single MRI test to scan her brain to certify that the severity of her brain-damage would have her labeled to be in a vegetative state.( A time line of the events of this case can be found here.) Terri is not dying or terminally ill; she is not brain-dead or in a coma. She is an otherwise healthy mentally disabled woman. The diagnosis that she is in a “vegetative state” is disputed by many medical experts, including neurologists. Yet, Michael was able to get a ruling to remove her tube and starve her to death, even though there isn’t a single piece of paper or a single witness that would back up his claim that “this is what Terri would’ve wanted”. The man has gone to the extent that he won’t allow her to receive bread in her communion cause if she swallows it , it would mean that she has enough brain responsiveness in her that would rule out the theory that she is a vegetable. That’s just wrong. But as much as I am sympathizing with her and think her Husband is a scumbag, I can’t help but be dismayed by how the whole thing is becoming a political circus. First Jeb Bush intervened, then the state legislators, then congress and now President Bush. There are people saying that this is part of the American culture war, the religious right jumped on the whole thing and vigils and prayers are held all over and people arrested. The whole thing is now portrayed as evidence of judicial power run amok and “activist judges” deciding things for the majority of the people. Some people say that this whole thing is a referendum on euthanasia, while some republican politicians are gloating over the chance to further eviscerate the democrats. As William Sleatan says here, the whole issue has stopped being about Terri a long time ago. And while I don’t agree with his conclusion in this article, I have to concede that he is right. The issue is no longer Terri, she has just became the poster child for a whole range of issues that starts from euthanasia, passes by the powers of the judicial branch and ending with how democrats are bad bad people. I , while can see how those issues relate to the event or how this case can be used to further the agenda of both the left and the right, would have to disagree that this isn’t what the Terri Shiavo case is about. It’s not about the judicial branch overstepping its bounds nor is it about euthanasia, no matter how much people want it to be. The real issue here, if you are really interested, is disability rights. I could explain it, but Harriet Johnson , a disability right’s lawyer, has explained it so much better on Slate that I should just let her talk. What she wrote was an article of 10 points one should take into consideration while viewing Terri’s case ( I am using 3 of them, although I recommend you reading the whole thing) : Ms. Schiavo, like all people, incapacitated or not, has a federal constitutional right not to be deprived of her life without due process of law. In addition to the rights all people enjoy, Ms. Schiavo has a statutory right under the Americans With Disabilities Act not to be treated differently because of her disability. Obviously, Florida law would not allow a husband to kill a nondisabled wife by starvation and dehydration; killing is not ordinarily considered a private family concern or a matter of choice. It is Ms. Schiavo's disability that makes her killing different in the eyes of the Florida courts. Because the state is overtly drawing lines based on disability, it has the burden under the ADA of justifying those lines. In other contexts, federal courts are available to make sure state courts respect federally protected rights. This review is critical not only to the parties directly involved, but to the integrity of our legal system. Although review will very often be a futile last-ditch effort—as with most death-penalty habeas petitions—federalism requires that the federal government, not the states, have the last word. When the issue is the scope of a guardian's authority, it is necessary to allow other people, in this case other family members, standing to file a legal challenge. Get it people? Hmm, maybe I will let her quote a liberal democratic senator to support her case to further explain it: In the Senate, a key supporter of a federal remedy was Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a progressive Democrat and longtime friend of labor and civil rights, including disability rights. Harkin told reporters, "There are a lot of people in the shadows, all over this country, who are incapacitated because of a disability, and many times there is no one to speak for them, and it is hard to determine what their wishes really are or were. So I think there ought to be a broader type of a proceeding that would apply to people in similar circumstances who are incapacitated." What this case really underlines is whether or not people with diasabilities similar to Terri’s have the right to keep on living. What this case argues, in essence, that even though Terri doesn’t need any form of life-support but a feeding tube ( she can control all of the other body functions), she should be placed in the same category as the people who need life-support systems like breath and heart regulator in order to survive for the next 3 minutes. While you could argue that they are similar in the aspect that they are both cases where the patients are brain-dead, Terri has survived for 11 days so far without food or water ever since they removed her feeding tube. There is a big difference between someone who is on a respirator in order to live and someone who just can’t eat or drink on her own, just like a person in a coma. Would you like for your doctor to starve you to death if you fell in a coma, because you are unresponsive and can’t feed yourself? That’s not mercy killing, that’s blatant slow-torture murder. Look, I support euthanasia personally, but there has to be a better process to determine whether or not it should be granted, and there has to be concrete evidence that it is the will of the person who wants to die; and in the absence of that there should be at least more then one witness who would testify that they were told that this was what the incapacitated person wanted and there should be no reasonable doubt that they would have an ulterior motive but the fulfillment of that person’s will. That's my own criterion, and i think it's a reasonable one. The facts in this case are that 1) there is no actual evidence anywhere that Terri- a devout catholic mind you- wanted that, 2) no other person witnessed her say that but her husband , 3) who has another girlfriend and two kids and 4) who is also using part of Terri’s care trust money to pay for the trial’s expenses and didn’t spend the money in any way to treat or care for her so far. The whole thing fails every logical test for granting euthanasia in my book. This is attempted murder with the court’s full sanction and legal protection and provides a precedent and a great opportunity and excuse for other people to do the same in the future. This isn’t a right to death case people, this is a right to kill case, and that right has just been granted.


At 3/28/2005 07:18:00 AM, Blogger Kender said...

Outstanding post.......dead on accurate. I have wondered aloud why not starve people condemned to death?

When the verdict comes down cut off their food.....and start the appeals.

I wonder if Terri were a lesbian or "African American" if more on the left would have cared?

Thanks Sandmonkey.....great post.

At 3/28/2005 10:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, an outstanding post, outstanding. America is going to hell in a hand basket - get out the fire extinguishers.


At 3/28/2005 10:33:00 AM, Blogger CEP said...

I second what Kender said--I wrote on this subject last night, with much the same direction. I particularly resent Mrs. Shiavo being referred to as having "not been part of this world for a long time" as somehow a justification for her starvation. I enjoy your blog, and do continue to keep us posted about the demonstrations, Egyptian and otherwise.

At 3/28/2005 07:31:00 PM, Blogger Kat said...

This is exactly how I took it: murder of a living disabled person.

I am all for the right of patients to choose their care or even to deny it.

This whole case just seems a little bizarre.

Just in case you get some nasty hits from it, I thought I'd clarify a few things:

1) aside from Michael Schiavo, his brother and sister in law say they heard her say it as well. Not that that makes it any better. None of her other friends remember a comment like that and neither does her family. It is possible she made an off hand comment about it, but, as you note and I have pointed out, most people imagine themselves in a coma, completely unresponsive and not functioning in any form, connected to about a hundred machines including a respirator when they make comments like, "I wouldn't want to live like that." Most of us can't and refuse to, imagine ourselves in another sentient state, less than we are today.

2) She was finally granted communion late Sunday night (sorry I didn't update on it) but she was so bad off, the priest only put the drop of wine on her tongue because it was too swollen and cracked to take the particle of bread. it's the one decent thing her husband has done in the last 10 years or so.

I am also pro death penalty and, I'll mention abortion, I don't like it, I think it's over used as a "contraceptive" instead of proper contraceptives, but I don't believe government should make a law about it because it is about women's choices (as shitty a choice as it is). I think society needs to get it's crap together and realize that it sucks for the sake of sucking.

Everyday, people make choices about their health care. I personally had to refuse care on my grandmother's behalf as she had written down and instructed me to do when she was dying. It is a very hard thing to do. But, I really have a problem with 8 years or so passing before somebody "remembers" that their spouse wanted to die.

The only thing I don't really care for is assisted suicide. Not as a legal issue per se but because there are so many people who choose this in a moment of despondence because they can't live the way they thought they should (ie, disabled, degenerative disease with a long survival span).

I'm not sure how I feel about a person with inoperable brain cancer taking a lethal overdose. I've seen what that can do and it is a most terrible way to die (brain cancer that is). On the other hand, I kind of find it repulsive because I'm a fighter by nature and I would want to fight to the end.

Of course, I've never had aids or inoperable brain cancer, so who knows. I just know that I am a little more ambiguous about abortion and suicide than death penalty or patient right to choose care.

I think this has been a big lesson for everyone. Get your crap in order, no matter how old you are.


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