Make the Dying Live

Make the Dying Live by pendragon David Whelan Of all the social, financial, and diplomatic ills in America, it is amazing how much time the President and Congress are spending keeping one person alive. I have only vaguely kept up with the case of Terry Schiavo, which has been litigated up and down the Federal and Florida state courts for the last 10 years. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal and her feeding tube was removed. Without the tube, she will slowly dehydrate and starve to death. Now, the day after the tube was removed, Congress and the President have mobilized to “protect” Schiavo, an act that insiduously insinuates their personal doctrines into all of our future decisions at death.
This decision caused the greatest stir of politicians one could hope for, with all sorts of extra-judicial activities, including subpoena’ing (AP) this woman, who has been in a coma or persistent vegetative state (depending on what you read) for 15 years. (See CNN on March 18, 2005)  Not because there was any belief that she could “appear” for a hearing, but to supposedly cloak her in some Congressional protection.  There are plenty of reasons to find the increasing interference of government in our lives to be disturbing, but how about a bunch of Congressmen and women climbing on their high horses and riding your rights down, trampling you beneath their righteousness!

My favorite quote, from the erstwhile ethically challenged and scummy Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) (GOP moves to change ethics rule | DeLay ethics trouble in Texas), was that “we should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a human being”.  (NY Times)  Because, in Texas especially, killing people on Death Row has caused so many governors to pause and reflect in the past.  In fact, the focus of DeLay and other politicians is satiation of the anti-choice movement.

Is she in a persistent vegetative state?  Is the feeding tube only thing keeping her animated?  Who knows?  Many experts obviously don’t and this point-by-point comparison of their positions shows the disagreements. (St. Petersburg Times)  A Florida court was convinced that the evidence showed that (a) she was in a persistent vegetative state and (b) that she would have chosen to terminate that state if she could.  (Bush v. Schiavo, when Governor Jeb Bush, a minor shrub, interceded on the side of truth and justice).

What is problematic is that anyone can find themselves in this situation.  If I am dying, I hope to be allowed to take that natural path rather than being stuffed full of medications, passed through scanning devices and tests, or connected to machines to maintain my vitality.  American society, perhaps more than any other that I’m aware of, has lost track of the natural cycle of life, which involves both birth and death.  Rather, there is an ever-encroaching expectation that death can be postponed, and if you don’t want that benefit, then you’d better spell that out plain as day or some politician or doctor or court is going to take control of your well-being.

Imagine the effect on your family, both the ongoing pyschological effects as well as the financial toll taken to maintain long-term intensive care.  Instead of a death, which is meant to be final I believe, and a burial or cremation, there is a perpetual state which denies the living emotional access to the maintained, and perhaps no point at which there will be resolution.  Who wants to bankrupt their children and spouse in order to stay alive?  Or, alternatively, why should society as a whole, through higher insurance premiums and other back door costs, pay for the medical support of people who should not be kept alive?  Because that is where the money will come from for this, because the typical American does not have the financial wherewithal to handle the costs of this type of care.  In Terry Schiavo’s case, opponents of removal of the feeding tube assert that it has nearly drained a $1 million settlement she had, through medical and legal costs.

If you haven’t thought about living wills and medical directives, now might be a good time to do so, at’s Schiavo site.  It no longer appears that it is safe to assume that, when you are dying, you will be left to do so.  Instead, as government involvement in personal medical decisions (so much for the “ownership” society – I suppose you “own” other people’s rights, not your own) grows, you will need to be more explicit in explaining exactly what you want have happen and keep your fingers crossed that you have closed all the loopholes.

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.