June 5, 2005
Annihilating Terry SchiavoTopics: Medical Issues
Dr. Paul McHugh, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, discusses the meaning of the Schiavo case in his essay Annihilating Terry Schiavo. Joe from Life at the Frontier comments that he has missed some of the disputes about certain 'facts' in the case but seems to have a handle on the opposing world views involved, and the practical effect on patients and medical professionals. Here are a few exceprts I found interesting:
Conspicuously missing from the chorus of voices arguing over the meaning and implications of the Schiavo case have been the views of a class of people with a uniquely relevant body of experience and insight: namely, the doctors and nurses who customarily provide care to patients like Terri Schiavo. As a result, few people appear to have grasped that the way she died was most unusual. That, instead, it has been widely understood to be not only a proper but also a perfectly commonsensical way to die, a way approved of by most doctors and nurses, can only be explained by a deep change that has taken place over the last decades in our thinking about how to care for the helpless and the disabled among us.
... I use the term "life unworthy of life" advisedly. The phrase first appeared a long time ago--as the title of a book published in Germany in 1920, co-authored by a lawyer and a psychiatrist. Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwertes Leben translates as "Lifting Constraint from the Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Life." Terri Schiavo's husband and his clinical and legal advisers, believing that hers was now a life unworthy of life, sought, and achieved, its annihilation. Claiming to respect her undocumented wish not to live dependently, they were willing to have her suffer pain and, by specific force of law, to block her caregivers from offering her oral feedings of the kind provided to all terminal patients in a hospice--even to the point of prohibiting mouth-soothing ice chips. Everything else flowed from there.
Posted by tim at June 5, 2005 11:27 AM
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