Terri and Sun

Some months ago, Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred praised my blog for being willing to enter into a well thought out dialog about political issues. They also pointed to My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and Maxed out Mama.

There are many topics worthy of political debate right now. What should be done to make sure that Social Security will remain as vibrant and effective forty years from now, as it is today? How do we make sure that elected officials, such as Tom Delay, Lamar Smith or Tom Cole behave ethically? How can the situation in Iraq be improved two years after the invasion? Where should the money be spent in State and Federal budgets?

However, right now, the topic that is getting the most attention is that of Terri Schiavo. It seems the blogs I have mentioned have all lined up with Terri’s parents. I would like to present a different view.

First, I would like to go on the record here that should I be determined to be in a permanently vegetative state, I would like to have the feeding tube removed. I have discussed this with my family, and I believe they understand my wishes. I do not currently have a living will, and I know that I should. For that matter, my lawyer is constantly bugging me to update my regular will. One of these days I will do that, hopefully before my family faces the sort of the issues that the Schiavo family faces.

I say all of this, knowing full well that medical diagnoses are not perfect, and having read stories of people who had been misdiagnosed as being in a permanently vegetative state. I believe in the sacredness of life. My life is sacred and I have lived it with as much dignity as I can muster. I hope that when the time comes for me to die, my death with be as sacred and dignified as possible as well. I do believe in the afterlife and I am not afraid of what comes next. My biggest concern is about the grief my leaving would cause those that love me.

I know this sounds a bit morbid, but you can’t talk about these issues without sounding a little morbid. So, let me get on to Terri Schiavo.

There have been some character attacks on both Michael Schiavo and on Terri’s parents. Some have suggested that Michael is a womanizer that is in it for the money. I wonder how much money is really involved at this point. I’ve read that there was a $700,000 medical malpractice suit and some people suggest that Michael is trying to get whatever is left of that. However, according to the Associated Press, most of that money is already gone. As to the womanizing, I suspect that if my wife were in a permanently vegetative state for fifteen years, I would seek some female companionship. Years ago, I considered becoming a monk, but I found that wasn’t my thing. As an aside, I wonder how much of the $700,000 was non-economic damages and what this says about tort reform.

Likewise, people have questioned how clearly Terri’s mother is thinking in these times. I must admit that hearing Mrs. Schindler refer to Terri saying, “she is my life”, does cause me to stop and wonder if Mrs. Schindler is thinking about herself or about her daughter.

I suspect that no one can think all that clearly when faced with such difficult issues. No one wants see a loved one die or suffer needlessly. I remember when Kim’s grandfather was dying. He had written a living will and had said that he didn’t to be kept alive artificially. On his last day, they removed the oxygen and he died peacefully. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a death.

In his case, there was no controversy. We prayed with him. We were sad that he was dying, yet we were glad that his long battle with Alzheimer’s was over and that he was joining his wife and daughter.

Recently, I heard of another interesting case about removing life support. In Houston Texas, a baby was born with ‘a fatal form of dwarfism’, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle. The baby was removed from life support by the hospital, based on a law signed by George Bush when he was Governor. It was against the wishes of the mother.

There are some who suggest that there is a double standard here, that some how, a white woman is more important in some politician’s eyes than a black baby. There are some that have suggested that all of the positioning is an effort to take attention away from the ethics investigations into Tom Delay or other difficult issues the administration is facing. I can see how people can get this from the way things are being covered, but I don’t think that really helps the debate.

The real issue is, who gets to determine when a person should be removed from life support. Obviously, the first choice is the patient. There is a story going around now about a doctor that had Do Not Resuscitate tattooed on his chest on his 80th birthday. It seems as if he has made his view fairly clear.

Yet what should happen in cases like Terri Schiavo or Sun Hudson, where the patient’s opinion is not clearly known? Should the doctors make the choice? The government? Or the legal guardian? Personally, I believe the Government should stay out of medical decisions as much as possible. As I understand the Schiavo case and the Hudson case, this approach was not followed in either case. In both cases, the Government is trying to do the opposite of what the legal guardian wants, and with the little that I have read, I find myself siding with Michael Schiavo in his quest to allow Terri Schiavo to be removed from life support, and with Wanda Hudson in her grief at the Government action in removing her son from life support.

These are not simple issues, so it is all the more important to try and step away from the excessively emotional aspects of these cases and think seriously about what sort of Government we want to live with.

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