Thursday, March 31, 2005

I Would Want to Live

Some of you disagree with me on the case of Terri Schiavo, comparing it to cases, when terminally ill patients, often under excruciating pain, wanted to not prolong their suffering needlessly or, when brain-dead people were taking off life-support machines.
There is, in my opinion, a difference between pulling a plug and taking somebody, who cannot protest, off his or her food and water.
A person dying of cancer under a lot of pain very often wishes to end this pain by overmedication on pain relief-medication, and I truly understand and would respect his or her wishes.
And, if I should have to suffer from terminal cancer, I would most probably choose myself to use as much pain-relief as possible, even if it would shorten my life-span.

But the case of Terri Schiavo is different. She was not terminally ill, she did not suffer from excruciating pain, and she had not left any will saying, that she would rather die than live in a semi-awake condition.

The accusations against her husband did not come from the media, but they came from her brother, who lived at the same apartment-complex and from her best friend, who told her parents that Terri was contemplating leaving her husband because of emotional and physical abuse.
These accusation were made years before Michael Schiavo went to court for ending Terri´s life, years before all the media attention. These accusations were made, when Terri´s parents wanted to gain custody over their daughter because Michael had refused to let her give rehabilitating therapy and antibiotic medication in two cases when Terri contracted an infection. These testamonies were not allowed into court by judge Greer.
I find Terri´s family and her best friend more believable than her husband.
The way she became isolated more and more from her family of origin and her former friends, together with other forms of control of her, does seem rather typical for an abusiv relationship.
I also find the testamonies of nurses and doctors, who say that Terri is reacting towards her family and even trying to communicate, quite believable.
Most of these testamonies were not allowed into court, which is in my opinion an abuse of justice.

And as I said, both the religious right and the Republicans jumped on the Terri band-wagon for their own political reasons and only after the parents had created enough publicity so they would find it worth it.And having the "wrong" people support Terri does not take away from the fact, that killing a handicapped person just because somebody is saying her life is worthless, is morally wrong. And it will, just like in Hitlers times, lead to more and more mercy-killings. Nowadays you call it lack of life-quality, when then it was called "lebensunwertes Leben" (life not worthy of living).

I think, to kill somebody because he or she is not seen as productive enough for capitalist society, is the end of civilization and the beginning of what Marx called barbary. Of course with these wars for profit we are already in the middle of a barbarian age. The killing of Terri Schiavo is just one more symptom.
To think about it, more people were getting killed in the last century and now in the beginning of the new one by wars and economic oppression than in any other age of humanity.

And in Germany, still one of the richest countries of the world with not yet as much poverty as you can see in the United States, just of few weaks ago, the leader of the junior Free Democrats said, "die Alten sollten den Löffel abgeben" (old people should drop down and die), because they are a drain on the system. And then some reporter on a follow-up, could find quite a few young people on the street with exactly the same opinion.
The retirement system might have some financial flaws and it might be in need for reform, like asking for a bit more solidarity from the rich, who nowadays can totally opt out of the system in Germany, or from the corporations who make billions of profits with a small work-force and therefore pay next to nothing into the social-system.But the young in Germany rather think, the best way would be for the elderly to just drop down dead.

We are a society of self-centeredness run amok.
Which means, we are on the way to self-destruction, because we can no longer empathize with one another.
As I pointed out in "Religion and Politics", altruism has been an important survival tool for humanity. The strength of the human species has allways been in cooperation far more than in in competition.
Caring for the sick has made society more compassionate, more tolerant towards differances and also more capable to find cures for healing, which improved survival rates for everybody.
And so, while not being able to care for themselves, handicapped people like Terri are still able to change society for the better, just by their very existance.

Thinking about Terri, I thought about what I would feel, if I ever came into her condition. While I´m rather sure, that she is indeed awake, I do not know, how capable she is of reflecting on her condition. If she is just dreaming most of the time, are her dreams making her life worth while?
Sometimes between dreaming and waking I feel most alife and most happy. And while I never can share those dreams, for they vanish, the minute I´m fully awake, I still can feel that there was something there, worth to have been lived through.
But what, if Terri actually can think, like us. The way she is laughing at jokes and closing her eyes at prayers, opening them again when prayer is finished, suggests, that she might be able to think but unable to speak, like some people who have a stroke.
There she lies incapable to communicate her thoughts.
If it was me, would I feel incarcerated into a personal hell?
I´ve done a lot of thinking during the last few years myself and most often was unable to communicate my thoughts with others, partly because I have a problem expressing myself verbally, partly because those around me aren´t too interested in my thoughts. And still, when I think about it, then I feel that every thought was worth it, even if only for me alone.
I believe in a higher purpose to life and in spiritual growth, personal and for the community.
And yes, even living in a world of dreams and thoughts all by myself, all alone, if I was Terri, I would want to live.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Why Progressives Should Help to Save Terry Schiavo´s Life

Terri Schiavo, a severely handicapped woman is sentenced to death by dehydration by Florida judge George Greer.
Her husband Michael Schiavo claims that Terri has told him before the incident which had caused her disability that she did not wish to live, if she should ever fall into a coma. Terri’s parents, however, say, Terri would never have expressed such an opinion.
The husband’s lawyers and medical experts claim, that Terri is in a constant vegetative state, a waking coma, where sounds and movements she makes are just involuntary reflexes.
Other experts however agree with the opinion of Terry Schiavo´s parents, that Terry is awake and reacting to and interacting with other people especially family members.
Dr. William Hammesfahr, an highly decorated expert, who had worked with many patients like Terri states plainly, that she is not in a coma, with appropriate therapy her condition could improve to the point, that she gets part of her mobility back in one arm and one hand up to the point, that she can transfer herself from her wheelchair into her bed.
There are also dozens of eye-witness accounts about how Terri reacts to people and also to music, together with Video-evidence which, in my opinion, present convincing evidence, that Terri Schiavo is not comatose.

Terri’s parents and brother brought up allegations that Michael Schiavo was an emotionally and physically abusive husband and that Terri had planned divorce shortly before she became ill and that he therefore was not an appropriate guardian for his wife.
Feminists should note that while these allegations could be a desperate try to change the custody situation by Terri´s parents, it seems more than likely that they are true, since they mainly come from Terri’s best friend. She claims she had helped Terri to make plans for divorce. Some of Michael Schiavo´s behaviour, corrobated by other people, like the urge to control and monitor his wife’s every movement point to an abusive relationship.
No wife should be left in the guardianship of an abusive husband when she due to illness is no longer able to protect herself.

But there is still another level to this:
Nazi Germany had a policy of terminating so-called "unworthy life", meaning the killing of retarded or mentally ill or of severely physically handicapped patients. In order to get the German people to agree with this policy, they produced propaganda films which depicted the life of handicapped or mentally ill people as a living hell. Then they asked the audience to have compassion on those unfortunate creatures and support putting them out of their misery.
The political reasoning behind this was of course not in any way compassion, it was Eugenics and getting rid of useless eaters.

The case of Terri Schiavo, who is not in any terrible pain, nor is she dying, nor is she with all likelihood in a comatose state, could become a case of precedence for just such a policy. And it could have a meaning for the current situation in Iraq or in wars that are still planned. And in this way to think about and fight for this one single handicapped person Terri Schiavo, is not a distraction from fighting to save the many people currently and in the future in danger of being killed by aggressive wars.
Many American soldiers come home from this war in body bags, far more however come home severely injured, some of them with brain-damage. If Terri Schiavo, who is most probably not comatose, is declared in coma and she is no longer declared to be worthy to receive life-saving care or treatment, the same thing will eventually happen to many brain-damaged veterans, if they are unable to talk clearly or control their movements precisely.
They will be declared comatose and the army will deny them financial support for their necessary care or treatment. The families of those Veterans are most often too poor to pay for medical treatment themselves and while they might clearly see that their loved one is responsive to them and not comatose, they will be financially unable to go through court-proceedings to prove their case - court-proceedings, which they could quite likely loose as you can see in the case of Terri Schiavo.

You might say that it was Jeb Bush, who saved Terri last time at the eleventh hour, portraying himself as her guardian angel. But he did not come in on his own. It was only pressure from his potential religious voters, which made him intercede.
And yes right now there are mostly right-wing religious groups supporting the survival of Terri; however these groups did not come right away to the help of the Schindlers, the parents of Terri, when they asked for their support. It was only after the Schindlers had succeeded to get enough media coverage on their own and therefore public sympathy, about 2 years back, when those groups jumped on the band-wagon. Right now Republican politicians are reacting on pressure by their religious base, while the so-called "liberal" media is calling for Terri’s death.
But remember, the "liberal" media was and still is cheer-leading for the Iraq-war and now saying, that no matter the terrible casualties on both sides, the torture and the poisoning of the whole country with thousands of Nagasaki bombs worth of radiation with depleted uranium, the "democratic" elections in Iraq make it all worth it.

What about the ACLU, who is also calling for Terri Schiavo to be "humanly” dehydrated to death?
There we come into the private area of our own psychology. Often, when we look at someone like Terri Schiavo, we do actually not see her, as the unique single human being she is; instead we see only our own worst fears reflected there is this wheelchair or this bed.
When people look at Terri they think or even say aloud:” I would never want to live like this.”
But what they actually mean by it is, that they never want to become like Terri Schiavo. And this is true, there is not a living soul in the world, except maybe someone who is presently tortured, who wants to become like Terri Schiavo. Who would want to loose so many of ones abilities and freedoms?
But then, if you ever would come into the same situation as Terri is in right now, you would want to live. People, who become physically but not mentally handicapped through an accident or an illness, are far more likely to become so severely depressed, that they wish themselves dead, than people with mental damage to their brain. The latter usually ready to accept their condition and take life as it comes. They feel sad, when they are neglected, and enjoy life, when there are people around who care for them.
Many of them live in their own world, which is slightly different from ours. But a loving relative or an empathetic care-giver can enter their world and function as a kind of an ambassador from our world to theirs, so that their world becomes brighter and they can live with the restrictions our world puts on them.
However, it has occurred to me, that Terri Schiavo might be far less mentally handicapped than it seems at first glance.
In an affidavit a nurse states, that when a priest was praying with her, Terri reacted, by trying to be quiet and closing her eyes during the prayer, opening them again afterwards. And then, after the prayer, when that priest was joking with her, she laughed appreciatively.
For a person to understand the abstract principle of prayer means, that she can understand her environment quite well.
But then, you never know, what understanding a handicapped person, who is unable to talk, really has. An appropriate reaction in a social situation is always a sign for a good grasp on reality.
I once worked with a lady, who in the last stages of the Alzheimer-decease. She was no longer able to talk or walk or feed herself. But we noticed that she, a former music-teacher, still calmed down and seemed to be more happy and content when she could listen to music-tapes. But then I noticed that when I tried to sing to her old well-known fold-songs myself, she started to move slightly and make melodic sounds, at times it was just like she was trying to hold the tune with me. And then, one day, after I finished a song, this lady, who had never spoken a single understandable word in over a year, now softly uttered two of the most beautiful words in the world:"Thank you"