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Miscellaneous meanderings and philosophical ramblings. The title from a spiral notebook I used to jot down my thoughts on religion and other matters some years ago. I like to write, think and express my views on various issues. Robust discussion is welcome.

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"Lan astaslem."
I will not submit. I will not surrender.
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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Terri Schiavo Schindler – Lessons Learned

Some who are reading this may still be grieving over the very public torture and killing of Terri Schindler. For some, the desire of her “husband” that she be killed is none of our business as it was given the cloak of legality by the courts. One wonders if the courts one-time approval of slavery changes that to a noble and morally correct matter. The Jews and others defined as undesirable under Hitler were also not protected by law. Does that mean their suffering under Nazi Germany should not have been fought against by good and decent individuals who still had moral values and the courage to act?

Let us be honest, we do not know what Terri’s wishes were on this matter. The media response to this fact is to inform us that we should put our wishes in writing, to create a Living Will. The unmistakable tone of their reports is that if you want to die under such circumstances you had better put it in writing or else you will be subjected to well meaning but misguided family members keeping you alive against your wishes.

But there are more important lessons to learn and different actions to take. We know there was great controversy over Terri’s actual condition and prospects for recovery and ability to function. As mentioned we did not really know her wishes. What could be more tragic than assuming she wanted to die when in fact that was not the case? One wonders if Judge Greer ever considers the possibility and if he has a conscience capable of reacting properly.

This obsessive fetish over Living Wills as a means to define death ignores these central controversies to Terri Schindler’s life and death. We must consider what we should do now that a frightening precedent has been set. The state no longer assumes in favor of life but in favor of death. Hearsay evidence is enough and the latest tests and therapies available will be ignored. Murderers, those that rape and kill children, terrorists and the list goes on, benefit from much more protection of due process and higher standards of evidence. But no longer for you and I, should we be disabled and have difficulty communicating. Even if that condition may have been aggravated by an intentional denial of therapy and mental stimulation for a decade.

In this context a recent study by the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability, London is quite disturbing. It was found that as many as 43% of those considered to be in a persistent vegetative state were misdiagnosed. The study outlined standards for reducing the errors and it should be noted that such standards, once developed, were denied to Terri. The current gold standard for determining one’s higher brain activities are MRI and PET scans but she was denied these tests as well. The subjects of the study also received communication therapy. Terri may have received some therapy in the first few years – the amount and quality is disputed – but what is not disputed is that not long after receiving money to care for her; therapy, treatment and many opportunities for mental stimulation were denied.

The lesson to take away is that we now need to document that we want to live not just how we want to die. Without this it will be too easily assumed by some that death is all one could possibly desire. Not only that but we must specify that the proper tests and exams are performed; qualified professionals with relevant and up to date expertise are involved and that therapies and treatments are actually applied. If we do not, we may find that someone will apply his or her own personal quality of life threshold to us. In Terri’s case, a deceitful media lulled many in the country to give in to such an arrogant act with hardly more thought (for some less) than whether they should watch in real time or Tivo for later, this season of The Bachelor or America’s Pop Idol.

Along with declaring that you actually want to live, some other observations from this tragedy are in order. It would be a good idea to have witnesses sign this legal document. Judging from the vitriol directed against Christians, you had better make sure they are atheists who have never even once attended Sunday school. After all, one can never be sure when such an exposure could become a full-blown infection of faith in God.

You should be careful that attending physicians are not proud supporters of hastening death for anyone they deem not worthy. Seeing their name associated with “right to die” and physician-assisted suicide movements should be a warning. For reference, merely Google Dr. Cranford and see what he thinks of Alzheimer patients who can’t feed themselves or what he said of Robert Wendland who could pick up and hand someone specific colored blocks when requested.

You should also make sure that any lawyer claiming to represent your wishes is not a proud spokesman for killing as well. For a good example of what to avoid see attorney Felos’ book “Litigation as Spiritual Practice”. He justifies his hurrying you on to death by believing he can read your mind. Indeed he describes an almost religious experience. Apparently religion in the service of killing is the only way that religious expression is tolerable to some.

For those who still feel they would rather die than live under such circumstances, let me offer some things to think about. What is motivating you to feel this way? Is it really about not burdening your family? But what makes you think that they would view such service to a loved one as so loathsome a task to avoid it by allowing you to die or actively killing you? Let’s all make certain that personal vanity masquerading as concern for our loves ones is not what is motivating us to give up on life before we really should.

Before committing your wishes to a Living Will you should consider that a durable power of attorney for health care might be adequate. In fact it may be superior. Many problems with Living Wills have been revealed in the March/April 2004 issue of the bioethics journal the Hastings Center Report. ElderLaw News May 28, 2004 has a good summary:

Co-author Carl Schneider, a University of Michigan Law School and Medical School professor comments, "Living wills don't fail for lack of effort, education, intelligence, or good will. They fail because of basic traits of human psychology."

For instance, studies show that people have great trouble predicting their own preferences about even simple, everyday things, like what snacks they will want or what groceries they will buy next week. "If they have trouble predicting what is familiar," asks Schneider, "why should we expect them to succeed when they are predicting what they will want in circumstances they have never experienced and can't foretell?"

Reading that article and also the entire report (both available online) is fascinating and informative. It becomes alarming when we consider that such a flawed instrument is being pushed by the media as the way to make important life and death decisions.

Once you have documented your wishes make sure they are updated periodically. You probably do not want someone having durable power of attorney and control of your life and death that you recently told your friends you were thinking of divorcing. One final thing, and it bothers me that I have to mention it; but you may want to consider changing the organ donation option on your driver’s license. Vanity and arrogance alone are encouraging some to hasten death and force people to die; it would be foolish to give them another rationalization.

The sad fact of the matter is that I now no longer trust our medical establishment, courts or media to defend life. Intentionally dishonest euphemisms in service to the cause of death and the participation of these elements of society leave me no other choice. Terri’s experience was unsettling enough but I have good reason to believe that additional and more worrisome stories exist and will be made known in the near future. At least to those who decide to remain vigilant and maintain their basic human dignity rather than mimic the negative interpretation of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. Such chosen apathy, when the stakes are this high, runs the risk of lowering oneself to a level not much higher than that of a statue of monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouth.

It is now painfully clear that we are truly in a fight against the culture of death. And those in favor of death will never cease their assault. Our vanity and desire to avoid controversy are being used against us. We are not only encouraged to give up on life to soon but to also devalue and dehumanize others. All the easier to force the undesirables to leave this world rather than insult and burden us with their broken presence. I pray that God has mercy on us if we give in to such a hideously selfish ideology.
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