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The 10 Issues of the Schiavo Case7 min read

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There are so many issues that the Schiavo case has unearthed, I wanted to summarize them the best I could, and rant a little too. Enjoy

1. Individual Right to Refuse Treatment Does an individual have the right to refuse treatment? We all agree on this. Yes.

2. Guardian’s Right to Refuse Treatment Does a guardian have the right to refuse treatment for a ward? If so, under what circumstances?

  • Coma? What kinds of coma? How much brain activity?
  • PVS? If so, how much brain activity?
  • Refusing vaccination for children?- When is refusal of treatment abuse?
  • Like in the Schaivo case, if her husband refused therapy, is that abuse?

3. Conditions that Invalidate a Guardian’s Right to Choose What conditions invalidate a guardian’s right to refuse treatment for a ward? What if a guardian has possible motive for wanting someone dead, like an insurance policy, or they don’t want to care for an invalid? Does that invalidate their rights to make such decisions? How about other purely monetary concerns, like it will bankrupt them to support the ward? What if it’s not bankruptcy, but just financial hardship? What if they refuse to care, but some other family member or organization wants to care for the ward?

4. Individual Right to Suicide There are two arenas here – political and moral (religious). Politically speaking, there is nothing we can do about suicide – I mean, you can’t punish someone for taking their life. Like insurance companies do, however – they can refuse benefits to their survivors. Religiously, there are Christian theologians on both sides of this issue. Some assert that our salvation is based on faith and not our ability to maintain good works, so suicide would not invalidate our salvation. Other’s argue that suicide shows that we lacked saving faith, and so are damned not just by our suicide, but by the fact that our actions reflect our lack of faith. I prefer the former¬†argument. 5. Right to Assisted Suicide Conservatives argue that assisted suicide is one of the early steps on the slippery slope towards euthanizing the weak and sick. However, this is where I think conservatives miss the boat. They argue that medicine should be about curing or palliative care, but not actively killing someone. They have no stomach for any kind of “mercy killing.” But in this case, I think that their slippery-slope alarmism is somewhat of a copout. We do have to heed such a warning by putting stringent conditions around ths practice, but to deny it in all cases is just cruel and unjust. Some people suffer so badly, we should allow them to take their lives in a humane way, assisted by a physician if necessary. I also think that the reason that Terry is starving to death is because of this cruel opposition to mercy killing – I mean, if we are going to let her die, why not make it painless with an injection?

6. Guardian’s Right to Choose Assisted Suicide (euthanasia) I think this is really what the Schaivo case is about. Whether or not she is in a PVS, someone else is deciding on whether she lives or dies. In this case, I think we need to allow spouses to make that decision, *unless*

  • the ward is not truly in a PVS – we should be able to monitor if they have emotional suffering due to their treatment or lack of treatment
  • there is cause to doubt the guardian’s motives, as there is in this case
  • we have not already done all we can do to rehab the ward – which in this case, it seems that we have NOT because of the *husband’s* decision.

I think this is a strong argument for letting Terry live.

7. Slippery Slope of Euthanasia Even if we agree with allowing a person to take their own life with assisted suicide, what about putting to death anyone who meets the conditions of PVS or other terminal condition? This would mean first of all that any guardian would be free to put their wards to sleep, and second, it could lead to doing the same to those who are wards of the state. That is sounding dangerous. Here’s where the slippery-slope argument needs to be heeded. We might start out with PVS, but what about extreme suffering like spina-biffida? What about mental retardation? Just severe retardation? How severe is severe enough?

8. Does a guardian’s right to make decisions also apply to abortion and the mother’s right to choose? This whole case has some bearing on the abortion debate. I mean, if a husband can put an ailing spouse down because “she would have wanted it that way”, can we also abort if we think, for example, a Down’s Syndrome child would not want to suffer? That’s the type of question that links these together.

9. Does the ward’s right to life also apply to the pre-born child’s right to life? If Terry Schiavo can be put to death because she is inconvenient, it would seem that the same logic would apply to the unborn. Pro-lifers argue that the Terry Schiavo death-logic is consistent with pro-abortion logic, and should not be tolerated. I tend to agree in principle, except that in Terry’s case there is the added detail that she is possibly always going to be in a PVS, while a child will grow up to have a future.

10. Do the feds have the right to interfere with state’s decisions? As Aaron points out, most conservatives are, in principle, not in favor of the feds interfering with states’ rights, and so are not big fans of the recent Bush-led federal efforts to save Terry’s life, even though they want Terry to live. They say this is improper, just like Roe v. Wade. NPR had an interesting interview about this, it seems there is some precedent for this (President Lincoln), but it still may not be constitutional. This is one of the conservative arguments, BTW, against Roe v. Wade – it interferes with states’ rights. However, in the case for life, while federal legislation may not be the answer, we may need a constitutional amendment to preserve life – and I totally agree with that. CONCLUSION As Bugs Bunny once said “that gives me a conclusion of the brain.” There are a LOT of issues brought up in this case, and I am disgusted with the illogic and duplicity, as seen in:

  • the conservatives’ dogmatism against the right to die, which has contributed to Terry’s painful death instead of a peaceful, morphine induced death
  • the liberals’ dogmatism for a person’s rights (Terry’s or her husband’s?) to the point of letting someone suffer a cruel death
  • the liberals’ dogmatism that is not giving time for due diligence in making sure that Terry has had all of the tests and chances for rehab before putting her to death (I don’t think the last 15 years of data is enough
  • both liberal and conservative polarization and slippery-slope fear-mongering in issues that we should discuss and make reasonable rules around.