| Apr 07, 2005

Feature article,April 7, 2005

Feature article April 7, 2005

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Days of infamy and horror by Jule Koch Brison (publisher of The Frontenac News)

Last week we published a letter to the editor on the subject of abortion entitled A Day that will live in Infamy. The author rightly gave that description to March 21, 1991, the day that the Supreme Court of Canada decided that unborn children are not persons.

Three weeks ago, on March 18, 2005, the court-ordered starvation and dehydration of a disabled Florida woman began. The 14 days between March 18 and March 31, when 41-year-old Terri Schindler Schiavo finally succumbed to lack of food and water, were also days that will live in infamy.

I for one, and many people on both sides of the border and around the world, will not recover from the horror of her death.


Terri Schiavo was not dying; she was not in a coma, on life support or in pain. Her condition had been stable for 15 years. She was fed by a feeding tube, like many disabled people are, but she also was able to swallow her own saliva without drooling. She died at the wishes of her estranged husband, whose motives were at best suspect.

In fact she was executed because she was brain-damaged. And an execution it was, as surely as if the court had ordered her to be shot, because of one very important fact: the judge in the case, Judge George Greer, specifically ordered that not only would her tube feeding be stopped; any attempt to feed her naturally by mouth would also be stopped.

That was not a merciful killing, but it was by definition euthanasia, which is illegal both under US federal and Florida Statutes. : 765.309 Florida Statute: Mercy Killing of Euthanasia Not Authorized... -- (1) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to condone, authorize, or approve mercy killing or euthanasia, or to permit any affirmative or deliberate act of omission to end the life other than to permit the natural process of dying.

Withholding all food and water is a pretty deliberate act of omission and is specifically mentioned as being illegal both in Florida Statutes and in the Americans with Disabilities Act: Cf 28 CFR, Ch 1, Subpart B, Sect 35.130 states "Nothing in the Act or this part authorizes the representative or guardian of an individual with a disability to decline food, water, for that individual."

The distinction between withdrawing tube feeding and natural feeding was not lost on the judge, who initially, on Feb. 11, 2000, ordered only the tube feeding of Terri Schiavo to stop. An examination of the successive death orders issued by Greer documents his move to euthanasia: The Feb 11, 2000 order reads (emphasis mine): Ordered and adjudged that the Petition for Authorization to Discontinue Artificial Life Support of Michael Schiavo, Guardian of the Person of Theresa Marie Schiavo, an incapacitated person, be and the same is hereby granted and Petitioner/Guardian is hereby authorized to proceed with the discontinuance of said artificial life support for Theresa Marie Schiavo.

A second death order issued by Judge Greer on November 22, 2002, specified the removal of the artificial life-support (hydration and nutrition TUBE) from Theresa Marie Schiavo..

On September 17, 2003 another order again specified the removal of the nutrition and hydration tube.

Finally, on February 25, 2005, Judge Greer issued an order that read: Ordered And Adjudged that absent a stay from the appellate courts, the Guardian, Michael Schiavo, shall cause the removal of nutrition and hydration, from the Ward, Theresa Schiavo, at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, March 18, 2005. This order was horribly carried out.

Did Judge Greer slide down a slippery slope or was he emboldened by the growing power of the right-to-die movement and public support for euthanasia?

And why should Canadians care?

Joined at the hip as our two countries are, as public perceptions go in one country, so they often go in the other. What was done to Terri Schiavo had as much to do with public attitudes towards disability as with the principals in the case. The right-to-die movement has won a great victory. A terrible precedent has been set that will have devastating effects for disabled people in both Canada and the US, many of whom do not have loving families to fight for their rights. If a US citizen could be illegally euthanized in the cruellest way possible, despite a massive campaign to save her life, what will happen to those who have no one to advocate for them? Could it happen in Canada?

Both the pro-life and the right-to-die factions will swear that this was such a horrible thing that it must never happen again; but the right-to-die movement will now be able to build a strong case for giving incapacitated people lethal injections instead of dehydrating and starving them to death.

They have done their worst to Terri Schindler Schiavo and she is now beyond their reach, but the horror of her death may be just beginning for the most helpless people in our society.

- ARTIFICIAL LIFE SUPPORTS? Typically, in peoples minds, mine included, feeding tubes are lumped together with ventilators, internal defibrillators and other mysterious machines as artificial life supports. In fact feeding tubes are low tech and simple to use. In many cases, patients can, and used to be, spoon fed, but that is time consuming. Some physicians are urging that tube feeding be considered basic care.

- "I WOULDN'T WANT TO LIVE LIKE THAT" In 1993, my first husband died after years of illness. He had at least seven or eight hospital stays, including three months in the Perth hospital. Each time, shortly after being admitted, he was asked if he wanted to be resuscitated. Each time he said no, and a Do Not Resuscitate order was placed on his chart.. But the last time he was admitted to hospital, he told the doctors that he did want to be resuscitated. He died a week later, and in accordance with his wishes, the doctors did, unsuccessfully, try to resuscitate him.

Such stories are not unusual. Last week, Cy Chapman wrote a very good editorial in the Gazette relating a similar one. Even if Terri Schiavo had said more than 15 years ago that she wouldnt want to live like that, people may change their minds. Would any of us want to be given a death sentence because of remarks we might have made more than 15 years ago?

- DYING WITH DIGNITY: An obituary for Terri Schiavo was placed on the St. Petersburg Times, Florida, website soon after she died last Thursday. It said in part that her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo had fought for her right to die with dignity. It is a mystery what stretch of the imagination would cause the writer to describe being dehydrated and starved to death as a death with dignity, but that is the seductive phrase that euthanasia advocates use.

The problem with the concept of a death with dignity is that death itself is a terrible indignity. It does horrible things to a person. Can we actually remove the indignity of death?

It is not an easy thing to be around sick, disabled or dying people, particularly if they are in pain. To sit with them and share their pain, we have to fight our own deepest fears. The temptation to hasten the dying process is a powerful one. Yet we can give dignity to a sick or dying person, not by giving them a lethal injection, but by caring for them and valuing their life.

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