Right to Live and Right to Die

Thus far, I have avoided commenting on the Terry Shiavo case, but I feel that it is time to do so.

First, the media has done an astoundingly poor job of covering this. For a very interesting, and needed, backgrounder, look here. I am amazed at how often the media portrays the case as hinging on the word of the husband. It, in fact, never did; several more of Terry’s relatives had separate conversations with her that agreed with Michael’s interpretation. From the court’s findings of fact:

Also the statements she[Terri] made in the presence of Scott Schiavo at the funeral luncheon for his grandmother that “if I ever go like that just let go. Don’t leave me there. I don’t want to be kept alive on a machine,” and to Joan Schiavo following a television movie in which a man following an accident was in a coma to the effect that she wanted it stated in her will that she would want the tubes and everything taken out if that ever happened to her are likewise reflective of this intent. The court specifically finds that these statements are Terri Schiavo’s oral declarations concerning her intention as to what she would want done under the present circumstances and the testimony regarding such oral declarations is reliable, is creditable and rises to the level of clear and convincing evidence to this court.

So we have a case where three relatives recalled direct statements from Terri expressing her wishes.

We have heard plenty of comment from people saying that the judiciary is violating Terri’s right to life by ordering the feeding tube removed. I don’t think so; the evidence shows that she didn’t want to live with a feeding tube.

If the courts decided the case any other way, it would be violating her right to death. Or, put another way, the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the words of the founders of this nation. Terri apparently believed that living hooked up to a machine was no life at all, and if we deprive her of the ability to make these decisions about herself, we have also deprived her of her own personal liberty — made her a prisoner in her own body, subject to the will of others.

I am particularly dismayed that Jesse Jackson and other religious people once again found it necessary to intervene on the wrong side of freedom in this case. Perhaps they don’t agree with this sort of end-of-life decision. But plenty of people make these decisions and they should have the right to do so. The idea of not forcing one’s will upon others seems to be a core Christian one to me, at least. Depriving someone of their liberty is an act this society usually exercises only regarding criminals, not hospice patients.

For Terri’s parents, who tried so hard to override her will — even if they were motivated by their concern for her — this was a deeply selfish act for which they should not be proud.

I have no idea what her husband’s motives are, but even if they were evil, his motives alone don’t account for the other corroborating testimony given by Terri’s other relatives.

4 thoughts on “Right to Live and Right to Die

  1. My main point was, I think her husband didn’t have the right to make decisions for her. If his present ‘woman’ and mother of his children were to suddenly have ended up in the same situation would he then have had the ability to order both women to be done away with?
    I fear this is a huge slippery slope we have now entered upon. Millions of people in nursing homes across this country are now at risk of having a legal guardian who could care less about their welfare, order food and water withheld until dead. Remember she wasn’t on a machine. She had to be fed and watered like most people in homes.
    If her parents had been guardians, and decided to carry out the starvation, I would have no objection. I think Her husband gave up is marital rights when he took up with another woman.

    Reply

    jgoerzen Reply:

    Hi Cliff,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think that you are probably right that he shouldn’t have been the legal guardian anymore.

    On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that, to me, is fairly convincing that her wishes were being carried out by her husband. That is what the court battle centered around. So, I don’t know if his motives were pure or not, but it does seem like she finally got what she wanted.

    I am actually not very concerned about a slippery slope arising from the Florida court actions in this case; they were trying to establish, and then carry out, Terri’s wishes. I think that this sort of fact-finding is a good thing, not a bad thing. I think we saw the courts work; the parents disagreed with the legal guardian, challenged him in court, and, after hearing testimony from both sides, the court concluded that the facts supported the guardian’s decision. (The court didn’t take that decision simply because he was the guardian; the court instead was evaluating whether he was acting in accordance with Terri’s expressed wishes.)

    I am somewhat concerned about the slippery slope that could arise from the federal legislation that altered the jurisdiction in these cases. It seems that the full ramifications of that bill have yet to be very well understood by anybody.

    I think the most important lesson from all of this, and something that hopefully everyone can agree upon, is to put one’s wishes in writing.

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  2. Amen to your last line. Although I would trust Marilyn and the kids to make the decision, you never know if they are the one’s that will make the decision. I know that if I had to lay in bed for 24 hours it would just about do me in. For weeks and weeks on end,,, I’m not interested.

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  3. I think that it was very much her husbands choice because he would know best if she would want to live or die. I mean, he couldnt divorce her and he had to of loved her very much. I dont think the Congress has a right to intervine and I also dont think that her parents really knew what they were saying.

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