Monday, March 21, 2005

Thoughts on The Terri Shiavo Case

What a nightmare this Terri Shiavo case has become! It’s a sad commentary on the state of moral values in this country, that a matter so private and excruciating to a single family in Florida should become a political football and media circus of epic proportions. Powerful right-wing politicians, including Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, who slight-of-handed his brother to his first term in the White House, and ethics-violations plagued House Republican leader Tom Delay, have wrapped their fists around this case as if it was the staff of Moses. Just one more outstanding example of their ongoing attempt to redefine our country’s morality. Their definition of this being that as long as you stand behind the pulpit, shake your fist and shout the right words about the "big" cases, you have the public’s tacit permission to keep your other hand planted firmly in the cookie jar.

This is the extent of my "political" opinion on this issue: I have always found it so interesting that the people who shout the loudest and longest against abortion, euthanasia and the right to die, are also the ones who want to turn a blind eye to torture being used as a means to National Security, and stand firmly behind the use of the death penalty. And they never seem to see the hypocrisy of their views. Either you value human life above all else, or you don’t. Valuing some narrowly defined lives as sacred, and others as expendable ("All animals are created equal…but some are more equal than others…) is a shameful and indefensible code.

My problem is, I have a hard time looking at the Shiavo case purely as a political circus. There are so many aspects of this situation that strike me as just being immeasurably sad. The state of medical knowledge in the world today has placed a horrendous burden on the shoulders of the human race. We know how to prolong life way beyond our ability to deal with it. Medical science now has the capacity to put people into a prolonged state of being neither alive nor dead, and humanity does not have the emotional or moral fortitude to know what to DO with these people that have been consigned to this limbo. We have been given just enough "power" over life and death to make ourselves miserable. How many of us have been, or will be, in the position where doctors will come to us and say that our loved one’s life is, for all intents and purposes, over; and now if we would just sign here, they will take away the "artificial" means of keeping her alive and "allow" her to die? I was involved in this very harrowing scenario ten years ago when my sister died.

In early 1995, my oldest sister, who had been suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis for a decade or more, began the decline that led to her death in May of that year. I spent the last nine weeks of her life back home in Illinois, trying to help her family deal with the ever-worsening, ever more frustrating and desperate situation. I finally began a journal to keep myself sane through the experience. I had waited until it was almost too late to write down my feelings…she died three days after I penned the first sentence in that blue spiral notebook. But I wrote this the day she died. I think it sums up my feelings about the Shiavo case:

4:30 pm 5/17: So now we are given no more hope. The decisions have all boiled down to whether we should help her die—take her off all "heroic" medications. I just want to cry out—"WHY???" Why did this have to drag on for two long months… Her last days stretched into months; her last hours into weeks; her last minutes into hours. It seems like nothing but pure torture. Who is it that wants to see how long we can all suffer? I don’t understand. I’ll NEVER understand…

…I suppose modern medicine saves or prolongs lives that otherwise would not endure. But how many more deaths does it make completely unbearable? How many families suffer the torture of having to make decisions that we would never have to make if it wasn’t for medicine which prolongs life at any cost? I hate it. I hate it. And if ever the decision is mine to make for another human at any point, I will never allow it to come to this… Don’t we suffer enough when a loved one dies? Do we have to have decisions of such magnitude thrust upon us to make the situation that much more horrible?"

A little more than five hours later, the decisions had been made, the "heroic" meds had been turned off, and my sister was gone. Five hours that felt like a lifetime. Filled with agony that was almost too much for any of us to bear.

And so, I look at this Terri Shiavo battle thathas been going on for more than a decade and I can only think, What kind of people are these, that they can stand to wage this horrific tug of war for fifteen years? Why in the name of God can’t one side bend to the will of the other just to end the pain? I don’t think there’s a good guy and a bad guy in this. Both sides have prolonged the fight beyond all reason. Each side trying to heap blame and accusations on the other. And all the judges, congressmen, governors, and presidents that have waded into the fray, appear as monstrously inhuman as the family--both sides--is beginning to look.

Blame? Blame medical science, which can repair someone to the point that she must be plugged to some kind of artificial umbilicus to keep her alive, but has not the heart nor the humanity to judge whether it should. They plug a body into that artificial support, and then point to it and say to the family, "This person is not really alive. Deal with it." Put the pen and clipboard into a tear-stained hand, and then get out of the line of fire. Unspeakably cruel. Again, I ask, "Who is it that wants to see how long we can all suffer?"


  1. This is absolutely the best piece of writing I have read on this matter.

  2. I want to second what she said.

  3. Amen. And I've become just cynical enough to wonder how long this would have gone on if Terri were on medicaid. She's obviously received the very best care available. Recently we were faced with deciding how to care for my mom's cousin. Once we sat down and asked ourselves "What's best for Leah?' the rest sort of fell into place.

    Who has the generosity to sit down and ask "What's best-not for Mr Shiavo, not for her parents, not for her brothers and sisters, not  for the politicians and grandstanders-for Terri." I'm not holding my breath.

  4. The woman has been in the same state for 15 years.   15 years.   But what is even more scary is what the government just did.  They stepped into a place they have no right to be.   None.  

  5. BRAVO! Cynthia sent me to your journal. I agree for the most part. I do, however, realize the position that the doctors are in. Whatever they want to do or suggest to do or ask to do, there is ALWAYS are lawsuit headed their way. I can't tell you how many people, who at the last minute, against the rest of the families wishes, want their loved one to live AT ANY COST! This is a mess, and I am still trying to understand HOW it got to this level??  (BTW, I love your journal!) Anne (Saturday's child)

  6. Well said. I must admit I am torn about this case.  I think about how the woman's parents feel, and I empathize with them.  If it gives them some sort of comfort to keep their daughter technically alive, what's the harm (other than the extreme expense of course) since Terri doesn't seem to be suffering.  On the other hand, if that were me, I'd say remove the tube and let me rest in peace.  So the real problem is that no one really knows what Terri would have wanted. Lesson learned: make your living will!

  7. I have a passionate feeling about this but each time I try it out loud the words fade into nothingness....a deep black hole that only those who have made the decision truly understand.

    I can not think it.

    I have done it.

    I still deny the doing.


  8. I couldnt have said it better. powerful!
    I can only hope that this circus
    ends soon.

  9. This a beautiful, forthright, and lovingly written entry.  Great job!  Pennie

  10. This case proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how far the currant administration will go inflict it's own moral/religious agenda on it's citizenry.  If the government is willing to go to these lengths to interfere in this very private and agonizing moment in the life of one American family, we should be aware that no one is exempt from it's reach and authority; not in our bedrooms, not in our hospitals, not over our own bodies.

  11. I found you courtesy of Cynthia, and I have to say that your essay helped me to coalesce my own thoughts on this issue. I watched George Bush say, "It's best to err on the side of life" just now, and his blatant hypocrisy (less government intervention? most executions annually in Texas?) is outrageous. We are supposed to be a goverment of laws, not men.

    It appears we are contemporaries and kindred spirits. Nice to make your acquaintance.

  12. Very well stated!
    Thanks for sharing this here!

    *** Coy ***

  13. Two words: LIVING WILL. If you do not want your love ones to agonize over a medical decision on your behalf, make it while you are alive.

  14. I found you via Cynthia as well.  Passionately and well put.  I am angry that the politicians have jumped on board and made this an even bigger cause celebre.  If ever anyone wanted proof of the cynicism of those glad-handers, this is it.  This is a private family matter, and not one for the public or the government.

    As for me, I believe she should be let go peacefully, but then it is none of my business.  

    One more thing - what a special woman she must have been, that she is loved so fiercely.


  15. It is very sad and heart wrenching. I was present when Joes family had to decide to pull the plug on an 18 year old child who overdosed.  Very sad.  

  16. Lisa-
    I know that this entry was difficult for you to write as you and I have shared emails on this subject between us. My own Mother is faced with terminal cancer as we speak, if there was anything I could do to ease her suffering and bring back her quality AND her the dignity of her life that she so deserves (as does everyone), I would do anything and everything. I fear for the politician or anyone who would attempt to stand in my way!

    I love you for sharing your story Lisa, I truly do. Your words made me cry with pride of your writing and bravery to share something so personal and a journey that you have been on, that I am right in the middle of. I pray that Terri Shiavo's "journey" takes her where she is suppose to be and should have been so many years ago.


  17. Hello I came by your journal through another. Your words so eloquently scribed. I can only feel the pain which I have known. I can not imagine how harrowing an ordeal with your sister. I have had to watch my father as he declined during his battle with terminal cancer. I remember sitting there with all the tubes and medicines and just thinking How morbid.
    I was shocked when the news flashed on, the media taking hold of this with fervor, and Congress has "stepped" in and now the President. I am not comfortable with this. People are applauding the federal government for "doing" something. What are they doing? They are beginning to enable themselves into too many of our civil liberties. Being too involved. And now? Even in the right to passage.
    Love your journal!

  18. this is a very good and thoughtful entry and I am so glad that you wrote it. judi

  19. Thanks so much for sharing. I can't say that I have spent alot of time reading on this case except for the last few days. I am really praying for her. I can't say anything about the political issue of it because I don't really understand it. But I still love this entry.


  20. I, too, am amazed & saddened by the massive effort & tremendous expense that has gone into keeping the shell of poor Terri Schiavo alive.  She is gone, long gone, never to return.  Her parents and family are prolonging their grief, unable to let go.  The real criminals here are the doctors who accede to the family's requests to keep her alive, & the propagandists who use guilt as a fund-raising mechanism.  Terri died 15 years ago, only kept as a living shrine.  I know, as a parent, I would be staggered with grief & loss, but I would not want my child's body left laying in a hospital bed, only so I could come & mourn.  Better she should be lain to rest, so the family can move on & put this tragedy behind them.  Better to make a pilgrimage to the cemetary on special occasions to celebrate her memory.  The efforts & costs can be better spent to save the lives of those who can be helped & need it, children injured in accidents caused by careless or stupid parents who abuse drugs or alcohol , for instance.  Unfortunately the medical community uses the awesome power they have developed to preserve life too often on those who need it least, all too often because those patients can pay...or be milked, as it were.  My own grandmother left specific instructions for "DNR" and "no heroic efforts", & yet my uncle found a doctor earnestly engaged in reviving her after a 2nd stroke, in the hospital; he would not be dissauaded from his attempts.  My uncle, an otherwise peaceable man, nearly knocked his block off; the young doctor realized his peril & finally desisted.  Sadly she languished 4 more days due to this intervention.  We gathered around & said our goodbyes.  She squeezed my hand when I whispered that I would always treasure her memory, although I do not believe she was aware of me at that moment.  I think she was making her own goodbyes.  Great entry

  21. That's a really nice commentary about it, Lisa.  I agree, the case is just so sad that you can't only look at it as some political debate.  In fact, it almost makes it worse that something so horrible has turned into some kind of impersonal debate, when it's the pain of real human beings we're talking about.

    I've not paid close attention to the case, to be honest.  But that was on purpose.  I find it too sad, and I know the decisions are out of my hands.

  22. My soul shouts out in prayer to call in intervention for this horror. Appreciate your comments.

  23. It is really a heart breakingsituation---one that my spouse and I are unable to agree on.  BOth of us agree that we would not want to be kept alive in that state. however, I am not sure she is as bad off as some of the doctors say she is...and then there is that million dollar settlement....I am anti-abortion, anti-capital punishment, anti-war, but I do support the right to die and even assisted suicide---provided the INDIVIDUAL can make the decision to die.  I don't like that active killing of deformed newborns is going on in Holland right now.  It saddens me, as the mother of an adopted child with special needs, to know she could have been killed in that country.

  24. Lisa,

    Such a powerful piece. Well said.


  25. A poignant entry Lisa.  This kind of situation happens in the UK too.  Before my mother died, we both watched a programme about making such a decision.  I asked my mother what she would do if it were me and she said she would turn off the machine because I would have no quality of life.  She said she would expect the same and that if she were ever in a position that she were totally dependent, she would expect us to allow her to die.

    2 months later saw the situation we had been talking about.  I remember sitting with her one day, asking myself whether I should take her life and end her suffering.  I was so close to doing just that but there was the nagging question "What if?"  It's called hope, as futile as it is.  My mother took the decision out of my hands and died without intervention.  

    We should all be allowed the right to live and die with dignity.

  26. Yes it sure has become the biggest nightmare I have ever experienced. How can they be so cruel? How is it that there are people who seem to be so ignorant to what the truth is. There are also people who agree with the lies and yet somehow they must no that which is so evident!  Terri Is a fighter! If she wasn't a fighter she would have passed on by now. Why isn't this enough for the Authorities to see that she is Alive and meant to stay alive?  They are murdering her in cold blood!  This angers me and saddens me. Where is this world heading?

  27. A truly sad day for the entire family of Terri Shiavo.

    My heart goes out to both the parents and husband.  This plight belongs to them and not those of us tearfully looking back on her last 15 years.

    This woman was raised by parents who loved her from the very beginning.  It's right and good that they would only want their child to live.  This type of loss is inconceivable to most of us.  They suffer a grief without any real closure.

    I'm engaged and have spoken to my fiancé about our own wishes if this had happened to one of us.  I can only assume that Terri's husband spoke to her at some point in their matrimony while she was of sound mind and body. This topic is generally not discussed with parents, but between husband and wife.  It's private and very personal.  

    A living will would most likely have prevented this heartless display from the sidelines that fuels their sufferring.  We all care on some level.  If we were honest enough with ourselves, we would've simply prayed the right thing to come, even if it's not what we wanted to hear.  No matter what our outside opinions are, the inevitable has come.  Anyone who believes in God will eventually believe his will can't be stopped, period.

    Despite all sympathy for so-called "sides" in this matter it's not my fight, nor am I worthy.  There's only one side people, those who loved her as a daughter, a mother, or a wife.  I admit that and hope others will respect her and the family's right to grieve, heal, and eventually continue with better memories of her.  It's the rest of us that will threaten that memory if we fight or continue in our own selfish interests.

    Terri taught a most valuable lesson before her passing, and her memory deserves to be respected.  I wonder how many of us on the sidelines actually understood what this was?  

    Thank you, with the heaviest of hearts...


  28. Wow!! This is a powerful entry Lisa. I'm glad I came back to find it. Seeing the endless newscasts about this case must have been hard for you too - a reminder of your own ordeal. ::::hugs:::: --- Robbie