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March 18, 2005

Terri Schiavo to testify before Congress

Yes, you read right. Terri Schiavo will be subpoenaed to testify before Congress. [NYT permalink]

Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the Senate majority leader, issued a statement saying that the woman, Terri Schiavo, and her husband, Michael, were being invited to testify in a Congressional inquiry into the matter later this month.

The statement pointed out that Federal law protects witnesses called before Congress "from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness's attendance or testimony."

The maneuver is the latest step by lawmakers determined to keep Ms. Schiavo alive to prevent her feeding tube from being disconnected, scheduled for 1 p.m. today.

Norwood has more at Blogwood, as does Jesse of Pandagon.


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You know, I said the same thing yesterday, as a joke (seeing a double entendre):

Frist:"The question is, should we allow her to be starved to death? It has to do with the culture of life. And I believe this body is going to have to speak on this particular matter before we leave."
SP: Well, Bill, she hasn't spoken in 14 years, so I don't think it will happen before April recess...

As usual for the GOP, reality quickly passed by the absurd.

Dear God.

Will it be on CSPAN?

Anyone think Congress would have done the same thing if it was a Terrence Schiavo lying in the bed?

Ghoulish, arrogant, mercenary sons a bitches.

"Ghoulish, arrogant, mercenary sons a bitches."

Ah, you underestimate their ability to create wedge issues wherever they can find them.

I sadly have to say please let them get Terri up in front of Congress to answer some pointed questions. Perhaps the media can take time out from Michael Jackson or Scott Peterson or the MLB Steroid scandal to televise this outrage.

So if she fails to show up, do they toss her in jail?

Jesus. I pity her husband, having to deal with this nonsense. And I pity Terri Schiavo, her soul trapped in a shell. Makes you think, really, if perhaps God hasn't already called her soul home, and the fight is over an empty shell. I pray she has moved on, and that God puts some sense in these people to allow her body to move on.
Does that make sense?

Wow. Congress is actually seeking testimony from someone who is brain-dead.

No wonder the Daily Show is many people's favorite source for news.

I'm wondering what would happen if the pope fell into a pvs for 15 years. I used to think it would advance people's understanding of the issue, but now I'm not so sure.

So a woman in a vegetative state is being asked to testify before a brain dead Congress? Makes sense to me.

Help me out, someone. Terri Schiavo is not aware on any level that she exists. She feels no pleasure and no pain. This is not the case of person in intractable suffering, facing years of excruciating life of ever-degrading quality.

I understand why Michael Schiavo wants the feeding tube removed. I would, too, if I were in his place. But why does he insist on removing it over the objections of her parents? It can't be for Terri's sake-- she is no longer there. It can only be for his own peace of mind. And that seems to me to be a selfish reason.

The only people with interests worthy of consideration here are Michael and the parents, and the fact that the parents are delusional doesn't change the fact that they are human and that they suffer.

So it seems to me that Michael has the right to have the tube removed, but that the moral thing for him to do is to move ahead with his own life while leaving the parents to lead theirs.

I'd like to be wrong about this. Tell me why I am.

JR, it's not about what Michael Schiavo would prefer vs. what her parents would prefer. The issue is that Terri wouldn't have wanted to be kept alive this way. Michael Schiavo is like the executor of an estate. It's not up to him whether Terri would be "better off" without the tube or whether he would prefer that the tube be taken out.

Unlike some "defenders of marriage," Michael Schiavo takes his responsibilities seriously. When you get married, you promise to love, honor, and obey as long as you both shall live. Terri Schiavo isn't dead yet. So, Michael has an obligation to do what his wife would have wanted to the best of his ability.

The issue is that Terri wouldn't have wanted to be kept alive this way.

I think it's really important to emphasize that there was an entire trial devoted to determining what Terri's intentions were, and that the court found "clear and convincing evidence" that Terri would not wish to continue life-prolonging measures.

Many, if not most, people commenting on this case don't seem to be aware of just how thoroughly these issues have already been hashed out by the Florida legal system.

Steve M:

That does make sense, and I don't consider myself religious.

And as far as asking why Mr. Schiavo wants to remove the tube, isn't it more pertinent to ask why on earth her parents would want to prolong this madness? Selfishness is the only reason I can imagine.

By the way, can we get her name right for once? Skee-ah-vo is the correct Italian pronunciation, I don't care what her family says.

This is helpful. May we continue for another round or so?

The comparison to an executor, I think, is a metaphor that reveals but also conceals. An executor who fails to carry out a will is subject to legal liability. Here, if Michael walks away, he will not suffer any legally imposed sanction. The law empowers him but does not constrain him. He has only his own moral compass to guide him.
You explain that his moral compass obliges him to fulfill his marital oath to do what Terri would have wanted. I accept fully that Michael acts in good faith -- that he is in no doubt that, while alive, she expressed the views that now lead him to conclude that she would have wanted the feeding tube removed. More, I accept that she did express those views and that court decision that she did so is entirely correct.

Can there be no countervailing consideration? If Terri had known that carrying out her wishes would cause her parents devastating grief, would she have stood by her commitment? It is not possible that she ever considered that question. We (or I, at least) don't know if Michael has put this question to himself. But if he has, and if he has concluded that she would have answered it in favor of removing the feeding tube, is the suffering of the parents nonetheless a countervailing consideration? Is it moral for Michael to pursue a course of action that will not alleviate any suffering of Terri's but will cause suffering to the parents? Is there a time when a vow may be broken because fulfilling it will cause suffering and will alleviate none? Is this such a time?

I also accept that removing the tube will give Michael the peace of mind that he has honored his vows to Terri. How should he weigh that consideration? Morally, is it entitled to any weight at all as against the parents' suffering?

Note that I am not asking these questions of the parents. They believe that Terri is a sentient being, and therefore from their perspective their moral obligations are clear. Michael is the one who faces the hard choices.

Michael Schiavo has no reason to believe that Terry would have wanted her body to be kept around for her parents' sake. It's equally plausible that Terry would have said "If my parents are deeply misinformed about the facts, I don't want them to prolong their nightmare out of false hope or misguided concern. Take my body off the table. Let them grieve and get on with their lives."

As far as the parents are concerned, the ethical issue is not whether anyone may ever be taken off a feeding tube, but whether their daughter has ongoing consciousness or potential for recovery. They presuppose that she does and go on to argue that given that she's more conscious than science says she is, obviously she wouldn't want to die.

Ultimately, the decision rests with Michael Schiavo. We have no reason to doubt that he's doing the right thing in an unenviable situation.

That's just it. I DO doubt that he's doing the right thing.

I don't doubt that he has the legal right to do what he's doing; I entirely agree that the media circus is repugnant; the exploitation by politians is -- well, there's no point in ratcheting up the indignation meter.

I don't doubt that he is pursuing the correct moral course to the best of his ability to do so. He views his obligation to carry out his understanding of what Terri's wishes would be as paramount. I accept that none of us has any right to interfere in his decision. I am just trying to work out in my own mind whether there is an objective countervailing moral imperative here.

I accept that the parents' belief that Terri is conscious and that she may someday come back to them is delusional. This makes them entitled to our compassion, not our contempt. When Terri dies, they will experience the grief of parents whose daughter has been murdered. The false basis of this belief will not reduce the depth of their suffering.

Let us assume that Terri loved her parents deeply and would do anything not want to hurt them. Michael is her guardian- how does he weigh her love for them? Can it be weighed?

Alternatively, Let us assume that Terri would not alter her desire to have the tube removed regardless of the effect on her parents. As an independent moral actor, must Michael nonetheless consider their suffering? (Obviously he must not be swayed by their hateful statements about him.)

I will stop now. If you have more thoughts I'd be grateful to read them.

As an independent moral actor, must Michael nonetheless consider their suffering?

Call me a heartless bitch, but I say no.

When Terri dies, they will experience the grief of parents whose daughter has been murdered. The false basis of this belief will not reduce the depth of their suffering.

Yeah, but the false basis of this belief--and the fact that Schiavo's parents have been told that their belief is false--means that their suffering is their own fault. They're suffering because they're choosing to believe something that's not true. They're in denial, and while that's understandable, it's also entirely their choice.

So, no, Michael doesn't have to take Schiavo's feelings into account, because their feelings are due to their willful blindness.

What is it with you liberals? If this was a convicted killer you would do everything you could to keep him alive but because she can't talk, or communicate, her life in your opinion is worthless. Her parents want her to live and her rat husband won't give up on this. Newborn babies can't feed themselves so should we kill them?
This sets a dangerous precedent in this country and it's only a matter of time before the elderly are viewed as worthless and disposed of like a peice of garbage. You know you're on the wrong side of an issue when Adolph Hitler himself would have agreed with your point of view on this issue.

The almost knee-jerk response by self-described "progressives" regarding this horrendous case is one of the most disconcerting I have ever read in my life.

Please, spare spare us the nonsense Michael Schiavo is a compassionate, concerned husband who only wants the best for his wife.

I don't like the Republicans exploiting the issue, but liberals and progressives need to stay away from this because the case reeks from the get-go.

Just because right-to-lifers have taken on the case with a passion, that does NOT mean progressives should automatically side with a guy whose motives are questionable, to say the least, and his hack lawyer and hack doctors.

It would be like taking on the torch of Robert Blake, and I don't think Schiavo is any better a person.

If you are progressive, you care about whether the state kills, whether through war, through the death penalty, through this outrageous instance of what amounts to euthanasia.

Spare us.

Please, spare spare us the nonsense Michael Schiavo is a compassionate, concerned husband who only wants the best for his wife.

From the Second District's first decision in this case:

Theresa has been blessed with loving parents and a loving husband. Many patients in this condition would have been abandoned by friends and family within the first year. Michael has continued to care for her and to visit her all these years. He has never divorced her. He has become a professional respiratory therapist and works in a nearby hospital. As a guardian, he has always attempted to provide optimum treatment for his wife. He has been a diligent watch guard of Theresa's care, never hesitating to annoy the nursing staff in order to assure that she receives the proper treatment.

hack doctors


Let's think of it this way, JR:

Assume for the moment that Terri had died outright rather than being kept alive by machines. Let's say she had expressed a desire to Michael to be cremated and her ashes scattered in the ocean.

On the other hand, her parents are strongly against cremation and feel that the only way for her immortal soul to be at rest is for her to be buried.

Should Michael follow the expressed wishes of his wife, or say, "Well, she's dead, she'll never know the difference," and go along with what her parents want despite knowing that it's contrary to what she wanted?

I agree that it's almost the same question. In your mind it appears that the answer to your question is obvious. It isn't obvious to me.

Let's ring a change on your hypothetical. Let's say T had expressed a desire to be cremated without being aware of her parents' religious beliefs regarding burial. We now find that we cannot know T's answer to the question that must be answered: "Knowing that it will cause your parents grief, do you hold fast to your expressed desire for cremation?"

I'm starting to think that there is a problem with the notion of putting hypothetical questions to dead people. Terri is not a moral actor anymore. She has no presently existing desires. The desires that she expressed when she was alive can perhaps be used as a guide to the actions of others, but it is not possible to carry out her desires because she doesn't have any. Those who contend that Michael has a moral duty to carry out her wishes seem to be incorporating some sort of concept of an immortal soul that continues to have human attributes like desires.

Theit's not at all clear to me that the moral course here is to follow those desires no matter what the cost. And I have a nagging feeling that in this case the cost is too great.

Those who contend that Michael has a moral duty to carry out her wishes seem to be incorporating some sort of concept of an immortal soul that continues to have human attributes like desires.

Well, yes, I would agree with that. I do think that the deceased's wishes have moral force, not necessarily because of the existence of a soul, but because the relationship continues even after death. My mother died when I was seven years old, but I still have a relationship with her, because I continue to live and remember her.

Frankly, I would have a lot more sympathy with the Schindlers if they said, "Yes, we know she's vegetative and will never regain consciousness, but we just can't condone the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration. It's too much like euthanasia." That would be a principled stand that I would understand.

Unfortunately, they seem to be operating under the delusion that Terri is still alive and conscious of what's going on around her, and they have been encouraged to believe this by the quacks they've surrounded themselves with. All of their arguments are that Terri could have a normal life and that Michael is denying it to her.

And in their rage, they've declared that the man who went to nursing school and became a respiratory therapist so he could care for Terri himself is a horrible man who abused Terri and caused her vegetative state in the first place. This despite the findings of the malpractice suit that Michael won against the hospital that treated Terri.

So, to me, the thing that disqualifies the Schindlers from the decision-making process is not that they don't think the feeding tube should be removed. It's that they've clearly stated their intention to bring in a parade of quacks to "cure" Terri against all medical advice. They have not accepted that their daughter is dead in all but body. They are not rational people and cannot be entrusted with her care.

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