I heard the anouncement, like everybody else, about Terri Schiavo's autopsy results. What I find interesting is that, from the morning until the evening, reports went from "autopsy shows profoundly atrophied brain" to "massive brain damage with no sign of abuse."
When I heard the report, the doctor said that exams from over a decade ago showed no sign of abuse. He pointedly avoided saying the autopsy could tell anything about whether Terri Schaivo was abused or not. Yet a lot of emphasis is placed on how the autopsy supposedly shows there was no abuse 15 years ago. Hmm...
Now, I'm not saying that Michael Schiavo abused his now-deceased wife. But I do want to point out that "the media" has latched on to, and distorted, references to lack of evidence of abuse. The autopsy could not show it and does not tell us one way of the other. Yet news reports keep chanting the mantra that "the autoposy proved that there was no abuse."
The fact is we don't know if there was abuse or not. In my mind, whether Michael abused Terri is not the point, but the autopsy was incapable of telling us either way. Listening to news reports makes me what agenda "the media" is pushing... my gut feeling is an attempt to embarrass those that the media label "the religious Right", and perhaps an attack on President Bush (since he made a stand for life), but I'm not sure on that one.
The debate over Terri Schaivo's feeding tube polarized over right-to-lift versus right-to-die, but I think the focus was misplaced. For example, whether I would expect my wife to pull the tube on me would depend on a few things:
- my value as a living being made in the image of God
- my right to explicitly refuse treatment, including life-saving treatment
- the attempt at treatments, including high-risk treatments, to heal me
- my metaphysical presence in my body versus the sustainment of my physical shell
Let's say that I would not desire to live as a crippled and mentally diminished person, a burden to my wife who would need constant care. Well, I do not seek to live this way, certainly I do not seek it! Yet if I were to survive some condition with diminished mental capacity, I am still a valuable human being.
That said, if I explicitly state that I do not want extreme measures to keep my body alive in the hope that I wake up after 10 years, I have the right to refuse treatment. If I am convinced that treatment would be ineffectual and I am going to die anyway, I have the right to decide to live as long as my condition allows.
If my desire to refuse treatment is not expressed when my wishes can be made clear, then we must default to doing whatever necessary to save life. This includes treatment attempts that may kill me in the process of attempting to heal me. But in every case, we should never seek out death; that is the perogative of God alone. Under these conditions, if there is any reasonable doubt that I am still alive, then the preservation of life must rule.
That being said, there is a difference between keeping my physical body alive and my metaphysical presence in my body. In Terri Schaivo's case, the parents were convinced that Terri was "there" in body a physical and metaphysical sense; Michael Schaivo was convinced otherwise. The media coverage and the evidences presented were so contraversial and contradictory that only a first-hand investigation would allow an outsider to decide. Nonetheless, the autopsy did show that the chances Terri was still "there" are next to none. Assuming that this was determined prior to the autopsy, all that remained was the physical shell for Terri's spirit. Thus, the removal of Terri Schaivo's feeding tube was not murder, but merely the end of sustaining an empty shell.
I still feel very sorry for Terri Schaivo's parents. I still disagree with Michael Schaivo's argument that "Terri wouldn't want to live this way." But, while mistakes were made in this case, no murder was committed by the removal of her feeding tube. That much, the autopsy has told us.