The Right Coast

March 24, 2005
Biased doctor thinks Terri might be conscious
By Tom Smith

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this story is the implication that a doctor who is publicly right-to-life cannot render a sound clinical judgment about Terri's neurological state. Professors at prestigious medical schools are quoted to the effect that, oh, he's a Christian, you know, so his judgment can't be trusted. Now there's a point. If a doctor is horrified at the idea of putting a living, conscious human being to death, you really have to doubt his scientific acumen. A true scientist would want to starve her to death, just to gather the data. The neurological exam took 90 minutes, but was not "complete," we are told. When was the last time a doctor took 90 minutes to examine you, for any reason? I went with my dad through a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy, and no doctor ever spent 90 minutes with him, or 60. What an unbelievable crock. If a highly qualified neurologist spends 90 minutes with a patient and concludes there really might be somebody home, that is, by any remotely rational standard, a pretty good reason not kill the person by dehydration.

If she is there, make no mistake, there is a good chance she will experience an exquisitely painful death. It's not the sort of thing most people know about, but I can tell you among climbers, wilderness sorts, sailors and the like, it is well known that dying of thirst is one of the very worst ways to go. T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia") knew of thing or two about thirst, and about suffering, and he describes dying of thirst in Seven Pillars of Wisdom as something feared greatly even by the Bedu, who were almost entirely impervious to pain. It is a very slow, very painful death to the conscious person. Dying of thirst is being tortured to death. It's no accident that the one thing Jesus complained about on the cross was thirst. People who keep dogs penned up until they die of thirst are quite rightly prosecuted for animal cruelty. I understand well how the Florida and federal courts got themselves into this mess, and why it would be very difficult even for a wise judge to extract himself from it. But the fact remains that the consequence may well be inflicting horrible and unnecessay pain on an innocent woman for no better reason than to satisfy the selfish motives of her former, in all but a technical sense, husband.

Peggy Noonan asks some of the right questions:

I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people. What is driving their engagement? Is it because they are compassionate, and their hearts bleed at the thought that Mrs. Schiavo suffers? But throughout this case no one has testified that she is in persistent pain, as those with terminal cancer are.

If they care so much about her pain, why are they unconcerned at the suffering caused her by the denial of food and water? And why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead." Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."

Everyone who has written in defense of Mrs. Schiavo's right to live has received e-mail blasts full of attacks that appear to have been dictated by the unstable and typed by the unhinged. On Democratic Underground they crowed about having "kicked the sh-- out of the fascists." On Tuesday James Carville's face was swept with a sneer so convulsive you could see his gums as he damned the Republicans trying to help Mrs. Schiavo. It would have seemed demonic if he weren't a buffoon.

Why are they so committed to this woman's death?

They seem to have fallen half in love with death.

What does Terri Schiavo's life symbolize to them? What does the idea that she might continue to live suggest to them?

Why does this prospect so unnerve them? Again, if you think Terri Schiavo is a precious human gift of God, your passion is explicable. The passion of the pull-the-tube people is not.

I do not understand their certainty. I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are. We can't know, but we can "err on the side of life." How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex." . . .

There are passionate groups of women in America who decry spousal abuse, give beaten wives shelter, insist that a woman is not a husband's chattel. This is good work. Why are they not taking part in the fight for Terri Schiavo? Again, what explains their lack of passion on this? If Mrs. Schiavo dies, it will be because her husband, and only her husband, insists she wanted to, or would want to, or said she wanted to in a hypothetical conversation long ago. A thin reed on which to base the killing of a human being.

Peggy's right. In fact, I think the Atrios's and Carvilles of the world get a thrill out of the fact that by cheering on the killing of somebody, they can hurt the people they hate, those dreadful Christian conservatives, so much. This is not just about death, but about hate. Of course, they do go together. In fact, they could care less about Terri. What they care about is the chance to inflict a defeat on their enemies. They care about Terri even less than her "husband" apparently does. They could join her husband in asking "when is that bitch going to die?" When indeed. Maybe she's holding out for Easter. Though Good Friday would be appropriate.