After almost two weeks without food or water, the death of brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo is imminent. Her husband, who has succeeded in having her feeding tube removed after more than 12 years of litigation, has announced that there will be an autopsy to prove the extent of her disability.
With the end near, both sides in the bitter debate over end-of-life care are pondering the lessons of the case. A number of journalists and bioethicists advised people to draw up advance directives, or living wills, in case they find themselves in similar circumstances. Opponents of euthanasia will probably lobby to redefine artificial nutrition and hydration as a basic need rather than as medical treatment.
Disability activists have used the case to complain that many people feel that death is better than living with a disability. The American disability lawyer and activist Harriet McBryde Johnson contends: This belief that withdrawing a feeding tube is different than other killing — why is that a reasonable distinction? I haven’t heard anybody say it would be OK to kill Terri Schiavo if she weren’t on a feeding tube.”
There seems to be no agreement on whether Terri is suffering as she is starved and dehydrated. Her husband’s attorney, George Felos, visited her recently and said “She looked beautiful. In all the years I’ve seen Mrs Schiavo, I’ve never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her.” Her parents, naturally, dispute that. Former US presidential candidate Jesse Jackson joined them in their plea to restore her feeding tube.
“I feel so passionate about this injustice being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube, water, not even ice to be used for her parched lips,” Jackson said. “This is a moral issue and it transcends politics and family disputes.”
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