Let’s look at a few facts. Remember, these are not opinions; they are simply matters of fact.
1. Food and water are not life support.
2. Terri Schiavo is not brain dead, and there is not a medical consensus over her PVS diagnosis.
3. We do not know if Schiavo ever asked to die in this way.
No matter your opinions on this situation, you cannot change the truth. But the media has tried to change the truth. There have been countless fallacious reports claiming that Schiavo is on life support or that she is brain dead, things which are simply not true. And these are not minor points. Removing someone from a respirator is a very different thing from taking away a person’s food and water. In one case, you remove artificial sustenance and allow a person to pass naturally. In the other case, you commit murder.
We can’t be sure that Schiavo asked to die this way, as her “husband” is claiming. So isn’t it better to let her live? She is not on a respirator, nor is Schiavo being kept alive by any other artificial means. Her only crime is her inability to feed herself. Stop and think about that, please. Really think about it. Go to terrisfight.org and watch the videos of Schiavo interacting with her mom. Imagine yourself in the hospital room. Could you remove Schiavo’s feeding tube and watch her slowly starve, all in the name of a “dignified” death?
An important question, and one that lies at the very bottom of all of this, is: Can killing a person be morally justified if the person asks to be killed? (The answer is NO!) But even assuming that you think otherwise, it is impossible to justify killing Schiavo when there is such uncertainty about her wishes. Such uncertainty calls for the utmost prudence. Some people think the prudent thing to do is to trust her husband with this decision. But is it? He has a conflict of interest; he stands to gain a hefty inheritance if Schiavo dies now, and he has been living with another woman for 10 years. He will obviously benefit from her death. If it is not prudent to listen to her husband, which voice should we listen to? There has been another voice all along: that of her parents. They will gain nothing but hardship and pain if their daughter survives, yet they want her to live. Why? Because they love her.
Schiavo’s condition isn’t pretty. It’s not easy to see someone confined to a hospital bed and unable to communicate. It’s not fun to confront human suffering. But isn’t it better to face that suffering than to let ourselves succumb to a worldview that treats human beings as products to be discarded when they no longer serve a function? Mother Teresa would walk through Calcutta, picking up the poorest of the poor — people within an inch of death: moaning, filthy, covered in sores. She knew that many of them had no hope of recovering. But she took them into her Home for the Dying, and she gave them her company, fed them and washed their wounds. (This is not a metaphor. She was at their bedside, literally washing their oozing wounds.) Imagine if Mother Teresa had walked by those who were dying on the streets and said, “Their prognosis is poor. It is best that I refuse them food and water so that I will not prolong their undignified lives.”
Mother Teresa understood something that we need (desperately!) to understand: all human life is worth living. You can’t throw people away when they are old, weak or too disabled to speak for themselves. And that is exactly what is happening here: Terri Schiavo is being thrown away by her husband (who stands to gain economically and emotionally from her death) because he decided that she is not functioning as well as she should. If we allow Schiavo to be killed, as we are doing, we are behaving like Nazis.
The Dutch have gone down this road. They started by euthanizing people with terminal illness who requested death. Then they started euthanizing people who just requested death, with or without a terminal illness. Then they started euthanizing people who never requested death, such as those with Alzheimer’s. Now they are euthanizing children under 12, oftentimes without even consulting their parents. Many people, out of fear, now wear bracelets informing doctors not to kill them. Sounds too horrific to be true? Wait 10 years. We are going down the same road. Slippery slope arguments aren’t often convincing. But it happened in Nazi Germany, it is happening in the Netherlands, and it could happen here in the United States. (Don’t be fooled. This is more than an isolated situation. Terri Schiavo’s case will either shape or deform our nation’s conscience.)
Invoking federalism as the greater ideal to be protected is a disordering of priorities. Federalism is not the summum bonum. If the state tells me to do something that I cannot do in good conscience, then I will violate the law. And if Florida says that Schiavo should by killed, our nation cannot in good conscience allow that to happen, regardless of what is considered proper. This isn’t a matter of checks and balances. This is a matter of life or death.
This issue is too important to be one of political fashion. This isn’t about being liberal or conservative. This isn’t about being religious or not. This is about whether we want to become a nation — a world — of killers. Terri Schiavo is being murdered publicly. Are we going to be accomplices in watching silently?
Deborah Bedolla is a sophomore in Calhoun College. She is president of Choose Life at Yale.