Marlowe's Shade

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Heart of the Matter in the Schiavo Case

I haven't commented much lately on the Terri Schiavo case for a number of reasons that I don't want to go into right now.

However this article by Paul McHugh is one of the best I've seen in the aftermath of Terri's death:

Conspicuously missing from the chorus of voices arguing over the meaning and implications of the Schiavo case have been the views of a class of people with a uniquely relevant body of experience and insight: namely, the doctors and nurses who customarily provide care to patients like Terri Schiavo. As a result, few people appear to have grasped that the way she died was most unusual. That, instead, it has been widely understood to be not only a proper but also a perfectly commonsensical way to die, a way approved of by most doctors and nurses, can only be explained by a deep change that has taken place over the last decades in our thinking about how to care for the helpless and the disabled among us.

I think a pretty good case can be made that the medical profession has been either co-opted or silenced. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Contemporary bioethics has become a natural ally of the culture of death, but the culture of death itself is a perennial human temptation; for onlookers in particular, it offers a reassuring answer (“this is how X would have wanted it”) to otherwise excruciating dilemmas, and it can be rationalized every which way till Sunday. In Terri Schiavo’s case, it is what won out over the hospice’s culture of life, overwhelming by legal means, and by the force of advanced social opinion, the moral and medical command to choose life, to comfort the afflicted, and to teach others how to do the same. The more this culture continues to influence our thinking, the deeper are likely to become the divisions within our society and within our families, the more hardened our hatreds, and the more manifold our fears. More of us will die prematurely; some of us will even be persuaded that we want to.

The mainstream media and the right-to-die movement have duped us into believing that in order to avoid a worst-case end of life scenario, we must abdicate control of our own deaths to medical professionals who have abandon the first directive of their oath to do no harm. In the past few months I've tried to show that we have plenty of alternatives. What we don't have is much time.
papijoe 6:26 AM