The Right Coast

March 24, 2005
Science and Schaivo
By Tom Smith

This is interesting, and one of the few times I've linked to a left wing blog approvingly. It shows, apparently, an actual CAT scan of Terri's brain, with commentary from some anonymous PhD in neurophysiology. He says the damage to Terri's brain is so great and obvious that she could not be conscious in the sense of a reasoning, willing human being. My wife is an endocrinologist, dammit, not a neurologist, but I showed the image to her (without telling her anything except it was Terri's brain). Her reaction was "that's a very atrophied brain," and pointed out various features indicating that. She said she thought it very unlikely that someone with such a damaged brain could be conscious.

So that's actually a relief to me. But it doesn't go to the question of experiencing pain. Presumably someone could have lost their ability to engage in higher brain functions and still feel pain. I have observed reptiles in the wild and in captivity, and they certainly act like they feel pain. It still bothers me a great deal that the legislature and judiciary of Florida have managed to bring about a state of affairs in which a human being, however brain damaged she is, is made to die of thirst. If it were my daughter, I would probably put a pillow over her face, and hope God would understand, even if the state of Florida could not. (I understand the Church would not either.) These days, if you are stuck in the hospital or hospice with terminal cancer, and your doctors are sophisticated, they will give you enough morphine to control pain, even if that dims and turns out your lights for good. And that works for me. But as far as I know, Terri's not on a morphine drip or anything of the sort. I have read reports that doctors say she won't feel a thing, but I'm skeptical of that. I've also read that her wonderful husband has refused to let Terri be given morphine in the past, and I don't know whether to believe that either.