Saturday, March 26

I want to Live (Free)!

The latest and hopefully last gasp in the ongoing Schiavo/Schindler National/Family Melodrama (brought to you 24/7/365 by Fox/CNN/MSNBC/CNBC and very soon QVC) is the declaration that at very the moment when her feeding tube was removed, after desperate prompting from those in the room - Teresa Marie Schiavo struggled mightily to utter the words "I WANT TO LIVE", only managing to croak "EEAYY..... WAHHhhh..." before giving up in frustration.

If true, I have to say this is the saddest and most tragic thing I can imagine. (Yes, even more tragic than the media feeding-tube frenzy that has been going on for the past week).

Much has been said by TV and Radio pundits with little to varied experience in medicine, all of whom seem to have their own diagnosis for Terri Schiavo's condition. Few of them seem to agree on a clear definition of a "Persistent Vegatative State". Some have said that Terri is active and responsive to external stimuli - she's trying to speak and simply needs the proper therapy they say - while others have looked at her CT scan showing an extremely abnormal brain formation with a severely shrunken cerebral cortex, now flooded with spinal fluid, and have said that her apparent moments of wakefulness, smiling, groans, grunts and blinks are entirely autonomic, non-conscious, random and non-repetitive. If one agrees with the former opinion, the events of the last 8 years and this last week in particular have been a travesty of inhuman injustice. If you assume the latter, I think most people would agree that even if the independant and consistent testimony of Michael Schiavo, his brother Scott in his sister-in-law who stated that Terri did not wish to be kept alive "with tubes coming out of her" is in fact true - the possibillity that Terri still retains any reasonable form of diminished consciousness where she could *amend* those previously stated views is a critical issue in the right of self-determination for any individual. What Terri wants is the core issue, and should remain the core issue. Contrary to many on the Radical Right who have taken up this cause, those who oppose them and their methods do not do so simply because they "crave death" as has been claimed, rather they wish to protect Terri's Right to control her own fate. It is because they respect the rights on an individual to choose and control their own life that they reluctantly support Terri own reportedly expressed wish to die rather than live in such a state. It's about self-determination and the quality of life - not "deathworship".

Many politicians, including our current President, have said recently they believe in a "Culture of Life", but I find their rhetoric unconvincing as they seem to consistent reject the rights of the individual in their alleged drive to preserve life, but apparently not a life of any reasonable quality. They wish to "preserve life", but they do so by bullying, threatening, and sometimes taking the lives of those who feel differently. This is not respect for life. It's an attempt to enforce your own self-righteously indignant will upon others, denying them their own freedom to choose and control their own life. Just like a rapist, they are all about power and control, not sex, love, charity or grace. It's little wonder that so many extreme anti-abortionists such as Randall Terry have taken up the Schindlers cause as their own. And have sadly managed to diminish the credibility of much of what the Schindlers have to say in my own view.

People such as Mr. Terry say that we should "err on the side of life". But where is this sentiment when it comes to Capital Punishment? To date, Barry Scheck and Peter Neufield's Innocence Project has managed to exonerate 157 condemned persons from America's death row primarily using DNA evidence. Exoneration in these cases is not achieved simply because just one more person has a measure of doubt to add to the equation of an existing verdict. It's because they have provided conclusive evidence of innocence. In other words, once someone has been convicted by a court of law they essentially have to prove the reverse, that they could not possibly have commited the crime, in order to have them freed. They can't be found "not guilty" anymore - they have to be found innocent! Would people like Mr. Terry support that all those condemned to die in the U.S. and elsewhere have their sentences commuted to life in prison, on the merest shred of doubt?

Somehow, I seriously doubt it.

A little more doubt simply isn't enough. The previous verdict has to be "not possible". But is it not even remotely possible that three seperate people independantly heard an adult Teresa Schiavo make comments concerning how she would like to be cared for if she were incapacited, regardless of what she may have said in response to a joke about Karen Ann Quinlan when she was 11 or 12 years old? Is not even remotely possible that several experienced neurologists who all examined Terri closely for many hours were absolutely right about her not being consistently responsive, even though she may appear awake and aware to others with less medical training or who haven't even examined Terri in person? Clearly, it's possible - and that is exactly what Judge Greer, who happens to be a Conservative church-going Republican, determined almost 4 years ago and is exactly why nearly every other Judge who looks at this case - whether Conservative, Liberal, Republican or Democrat - refuses to touch it. I'm afraid that with as much as a week or more left at this point in time before Terri finally passes to the next phase of life - it's game over for the Schindlers, even with the remote possibility that they've been right about Terri all along.

Terri's case was not argued in the criminal courts. It did not require a standard of proof beyond all reasonable doubt to be decided, however the usual civil standard of "preponderance of evidence" was not used either. Because someones continued life was being determined by the outcome, the much more stringent standard of "clear and convincing" evidence was used. I think that's a good standard to use in this case, but for those who claim they wish to "protect life" above all other efforts I would challenge them to support use of even this standard in all cases where the health, safety and life of persons are at risk. Would they support this level of standard for worker safety, environmental and consumer protection cases -- where all juries and judges would be required to "err on the side of life" when determining liability, injury and death claims and what reasonable actions both individuals and corporations should take to "protect life"? Would they be willing to go even further and say that in order to protect life those who are accused in civil court of endangering people lives, health and safety should be presumed guilty unless there is evidence "beyond all reasonable doubt" of their innocence? Wouldn't that be the ultimate in "erring on the side of life"?

Just how strong is their commitment to life? For example, will we be seeing these same people holding up signs on CNN and the Letterman Show, standing candle-light vigil for the children of mothers who've suffered brain damage as a result of increased mercury poisoning of our rivers and streams?

I might be wrong, but somehow I really seriously doubt that.

A lot of us want to live, but I think most of us want to live free. Free of toxins, free of excessivly hazardous work conditions, free of thoughtless negligence, free of random senseless crime, free of domineering abuses spouses, and free of intolerant zealots whether they wear a judges robe, white sheet, a "God Hates Fags" or "I <3 N'Sync" T-shirt.

Then again, I could still be wrong. I suppose we'll find out in the Congressional elections of 2006! I can hardly wait.


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