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March 21, 2005


I'm ashamed to say that I spent very little thought on the Terri Schiavo case when I first heard about it (when her feeding tube was removed in 2000). This time around, I'm trying to pay a little closer attention, both because of its state-vs-federal implications (hard to reconcile the pull-the-tube side with a fervent desire for states' rights) and because a life is at risk, one way or the other. I don't see how it's "shameless" for members of the Republican party who identify themselves as "pro-life" to be "pro-life" in a case in which this woman's parents not only want her to go on living but are begging for the chance to take on all her care. (If they wanted her to go on living but were unwilling to pay for it - that is, if their desire was more to get back at Michael Schiavo than to keep Terri alive - I'd feel differently.)

My perspective: there is question in this case as to whether Terri is in fact in the PVS that Greer has made a finding of fact. Noted neurologists come down on both sides of the issue - at least, I assume there are some on the PVS side; I know there are on the non-PVS side. Why take action to cause her death (note that I avoid saying "kill her" even though that's the effect) before settling the question, rather than passively allowing her to go on living while trying to reach a conclusion that takes into account not only Michael Schiavo's desire to see her dead (can that be argued? It's only his reason that's in question - whether he wants to see her dead out of love and respect for her, or for some other reason), but also medical science that has advanced considerably since the finding-of-fact diagnosis and the desire of her family to see her, and support her in, continuing to live? Should not the position of the medical community be "first, do no harm"? If the docs ascribing to Terri a PVS are wrong, well, there's not much more harm they could do her than removing a feeding tube that may not even be necessary while simultaneously forbidding anyone even to try to feed her. Is the debate sufficiently one-sided that the pro-PVS docs feel no doubt, sense no possibility that they've misdiagnosed? Dr. William Hammesfahr, who has indeed spent multiples more time with Terri than Dr. Cranford has (not hard, considering that Dr. Cranford's diagnosis was based on a 45-minute exam), is a Nobel-nominated neurologist whose field of expertise is in successful medication and treatment of patients who suffered brain damage even years previously; he is on record as stating that not only is Terri patently not in a PVS but that he has treated patients in similar conditions who are speaking. [Note the following about Dr. Cranford: "In cases where other doctors don’t see it, Dr. Cranford seems to have a knack for finding PVS. Cranford also diagnosed Robert Wendland as PVS. He did so in spite of the fact that Wendland could pick up specifically colored pegs or blocks and hand them to a therapy assistant on request. He did so in spite of the fact that Wendland could operate and maneuver an ordinary wheelchair with his left hand and foot, and an electric wheelchair with a joystick, of the kind that many disabled persons (most famously Dr. Stephen Hawking) use. Dr. Cranford dismissed these abilities as meaningless. Fortunately for Wendland, the California supreme court was not persuaded by Cranford’s assessment." From NRO: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/johansen200503160848.asp]

I don't generally subscribe to conspiracy theories, but Michael Schiavo's behavior throughout Terri's half-life has not been exemplary; surely there could be some question even in the minds of the most fervent right-to-die-with-dignity advocates as to whether this particular spokesman for this particular woman is acting from wholly pure motives.

I don't know what else to say about this case; if there's a miscarriage going on, I believe it's on the side of immediate death rather than at least delayed death. Aren't the stakes high enough to justify a hearing?

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