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Monday, March 21, 2005

A Plea For Terri Schiavo - Please Let Her Go

I have very mixed emotions about writing anything concerning the Terri Schiavo case. First of all, I believe there are few villains here, but if I had to pick anyone for that role, it would be the Republicans in Congress. I think there are some members of Congress who voted to have the feeding tube reinserted who honestly are well intentioned. But I think a lot of the Republican members of Congress got caught red handed because of the discovery of that cynical memo labeling it clearly as a great political issue that would excite their base. For some of them, everything is about exciting their Luddite and moronic right wing base.

The base is probably also pretty villainous, not because they aren’t well intentioned but because they are willfully stupid, anti-scientific, and adamantly ideological.

Terri’s parent, the Schindlers, her brother and sister are not in this category. Regardless of the ill feeling between them and her husband, they are loving family members who just can’t let go of their beloved daughter and sister. Believe me, I sympathize with them mightily.

About eleven years ago, my husband had cancer and had to go to the hospital for a bone marrow transplant. Although this wasn’t major surgery, there were risks involved. The biggest risk, of course, wasn’t from the bone marrow transplant itself but from the possibility that his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma would not respond to the treatment. Nevertheless, with any surgery there are dangers, and so my husband filled out a living will.

The night before the surgery, he also called me into the living room and made his wishes known, not just to me, but to our best friend as well. He wanted to make absolutely sure that I would have a witness should somebody need to make a decision to pull the plug. He did not want extraordinary measures or indefinite life support. And he wanted no ambiguity just in case well meaning family tried to dispute this decision.

Actually, I was the well-meaning family that he didn’t really trust to carry out this wish. Without our best friend, Darryl, as a witness I would never have had the courage or unselfishness to honor his request. Fortunately, we never had to face this situation. Dan came through the surgery fine. And every day I thank God that he is still cancer free.

But because of this experience, I understand the Schlinders. I would never condemn them for their refusal to give up on their little girl. Just like them, I would have fought against all reason to deny the inevitability of my loved one’s demise.

But the sad truth is that their little girl is gone.

From everything I have read about persistent vegetative states, Terri Schiavo no longer has a consciousness. Her eyes can wander around a room. Her face can make a series of grimaces that appear to be smiles or expressions, but they are really just muscle twitches, tics. Terri Shiavo’s brain is dead. The hardwiring is gone and there is no conscious awareness. Put bluntly, she doesn’t live there any more.

In watching this, what strikes me as truly sad, as a religious person, is that if one believes in a soul and an afterlife, when does somebody finally get the courage to release her spirit so that it can move on?

There’s a science fiction/fantasy novel by author Katherine Kurtz that has an episode where an occultist calls the spirit of a dead person back into his rotting body to gain knowledge that only that spirit could impart to the greedy and selfish magician.

Although this is obviously fiction – and science fiction/fantasy at that – the situation reminds me of what is now taking place before the world’s eyes. People who claim to be deeply devout are forcing the spirit of a brain dead woman to stay within a damaged body that no longer has a consciousness, rather than letting it move on to heaven, in order to make a political point for their cause.

Their cause may be just, but this is the wrong situation to press it. If you truly love Terri and you truly believe in an afterlife, please let Terri’s soul move on now.

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