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March 9, 2007

The Long Farewell of a Hunger Strike

Topics: Remembering Terri

Two years ago Pamela Hennessy wrote about the death via starvation that awaits Terri Schiavo later this week if government officials do not intervene on her behalf.

I've been wanting to lose some weight and I suppose now's as good a time as any.

With an execution by starvation and dehydration date of March 18, 2005 set for disabled Terri Schiavo, a number of activists are planning a hunger strike and I'm going to join them.

The act of self-deprivation in the form of a hunger strike is nothing new, but it's a hazardous stunt to say the least.

In 1981, ten Irish Republican activists joined in a hunger strike as a political statement and soon wound up dead. Through the years, countless political prisoners have met the same fate by denying themselves nutrition over long periods of time.

The effects of starvation are a bit grisly. Organs and muscles can become seriously damaged; the individual can become delusional and begin to hallucinate; weakness, shortness of breath and hypothermia can set in; and - if not cautious - a healthy person could end up dead within two weeks.

A political activist web site gives advice to those wanting to engage in a hunger strike by saying: "Drink lots of water, consume fruit jukes."

Citing the fact that a healthy body will surely die a horrible death without proper hydration, the site further cautions readers that a hunger strike is a dangerous undertaking and something that is not to be taken lightly.

I get it. It's a pity Florida judges and lawmakers don't.

If nothing changes between now and March 18, a disabled and innocent woman will be subjected to this kind of physical torture, but she is not a political activist and she's not a criminal. She's simply brain injured.

Terri Schiavo lost consciousness on February 25, 1990 following a mysterious medical event. She emerged weeks later with significant brain damage that rendered her helpless and dependent on others for ordinary care. Ordinary care is defined medically and under Florida's statutes as food, water, clothing, shelter, warmth, treatment for infection and cleanliness. The rub is that two of those items have been defined elsewhere in Florida's statutes as medical treatment: food and water.

With that, Terri's guardian and estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, set out in 1998 to obtain authority from Florida's courts to remove Terri's food and water - currently delivered by a gastric tube. Such action takes place every day in Florida's nursing homes and hospitals, but the patients are typically in the dying stages and no longer able to accept food and fluids. That is not, however, the case for Terri Schiavo.

Terri is in good health. Her lungs, kidneys, liver and heart are all doing as they should, according to the court testimony of attending physician, Dr. Victor Gambone. She's not terminally ill. She's not unconscious. She's not dying.

The only conceivable thing that would cause Terri Schiavo to die is a deliberate act. That deliberate act has now been enthusiastically approved by Circuit Judge George W. Greer in the form of ordering her husband to removie the tube that provides Terri with nutrition and hydration so that she will die over the course of several days. Greer further ordered that Terri may not be given food or water by mouth.

This last item should cause more alarm than the first because, under Florida law, such an act is willful abuse of a vulnerable adult and a felony. It has, of course, not caused any discomfort for Judge Greer who will, no doubt, go home on March 18 to a warm meal and a tall drink.

It bothers me, however, because it's breaking the law and Florida's lawmakers are sitting on their hands while this judge gleefully tramples their statutes.

It also bothers me because of the shear torture Terri Schiavo is scheduled to undergo in only a few days. Dr. Curtis E. Harris, M.D, writing for a publication titled "Life Cycles" explains the medical aspects of dehydration and starvation deaths in the following steps:

"Dry mucous membranes (mouth, nose throat and genital organs), constipation and impaction (buildup of stool in the body), severe abdominal cramping and bloating, nausea and vomiting, electrolyte imbalances (salt and water problems in the blood and tissues), arrhythmias, myalgias and malaise (muscle pain and marked fatigue), cough and shortness of breath, severe depression and confusion, severe agitation and fear, delusions, dry, cracked skin, urinary, vaginal and bowel infection, bronchitis and pneumonia, blood in the bowel, stomach, kidney and lungs, kidney failure, general systemic collapse and death."

Does that sound to you like the painless, peaceful and dignified death Michael Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos, keep shamelessly marketing to the American public?

If nothing changes between now and March 18 and Terri Schiavo's food and water are taken from her, I'm joining in with the other objectors and denying myself food. Why not? It's a relatively safe bet for me because, unlike Terri I won't be without water. Unlike Terri, I can call it off at any time. Unlike Terri, I don't have a death order hanging over my head. And, unlike Terri, no one will look the other way because they view me as a burden on society.

Shame on any Floridian who stands by and lets this happen.

Posted by tim at March 9, 2007 6:06 AM

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