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Published: Wednesday, 10/29/2003

Alive but not living

The knee-jerk ignorance of the Florida legislature and governor's office in pushing for the reinsertion of a feeding tube in Terri Schiavo mocks the respect they say they have for life.

A judge's ruling on the constitutionality of the new law, which lets the governor overrule the courts, can only go one way.

Mrs. Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state for 13 years, due to a potassium imbalance that stopped her heart long enough to severely damage her brain. It is a state from which no one who has survived so long in it has recovered.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, as much in denial as an alcoholic in a bar, sought the political intervention. They will not believe she is beyond hope. Their intentional blindness, as self-punishing as it is painful to Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, could affect everyone's freedom to choose or reject life support.

Such decisions are tough. They usually require a family harmony missing in Mrs. Schiavo's life. Her family hates Mr. Schiavo, who, with court approval and after a decade of litigation, on Oct. 15 removed the feeding tube that had sustained her in this vegetative state for so long. He said this is what she would want. Her parents think of him a killer.

On Oct. 21, with fast action by the Florida legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush, both persuaded by her parents' video that shows Mrs. Schiavo's eyes open (but not tracking), the tube was reinserted. A guardian was to be appointed for her, replacing her husband.

All this despite the fact that a CAT scan shows Mrs. Schiavo has massive atrophy of the brain. “It looks like she's looking at you, but really she's not. It looks like she's grinning at you, but she's not,” said Dr. Ronald Cranford, a Minnesota neurologist in the case. She cannot think, or feed herself, or control body functions.

There is no documented evidence of a recovery after three months in cases like these, experts say, let alone 13 years. Surely both Governor Bush and the Florida legislature could have found experts to confirm these facts and acted intelligently.

People who have loved a person ought to be able to console one another that his or her dying was not needlessly prolonged. The message of Terri Schiavo's sorry ending - and it is sure to come soon - is that it's never too early to talk to family members and loved ones about how one wants and doesn't want to live or die. A deathbed or a funeral is no place for tension and hostility.



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