Inconsistencies in Shiavo Debate Need to Be Aired

The debate over the Terri Shiavo case falls into two general camps: those who support the removal of life support and those who oppose it. Throughout the public debate and the recent legislation there are significant inconsistencies on both sides, and they haven’t been adequately aired. Before that, though, let me say this: This must be the most horrible of choices for Shiavo’s parents. It’s hard just imagining their position; it’s impossible to fully understand it. Regardless of the validity of the arguments either way, nobody should expect them to be necessarily logical. Let them have unconditional hope. It’s what you’d expect of dedicated, loving parents. It’s admirable that they stick with their daughter through the ordeal, and my heart goes out to them. I hope this becomes a private matter soon. I hope they can somehow find peace through it all. As for the inconsistencies in the public debate, first there are those who support (or at least acquiesce to) the removal of life support. The typical argument is one of suffering or dignity—let the person die with dignity and end the suffering. For this to hold, one must believe that Shiavo is already effectively dead. Therefore, her life is already over. Her joy is already over. Her suffering is already over. It follows that she won’t suffer any more if her parents put her through a regiment of intensive therapy. She won’t suffer any more if she lives one more year or 20 more years. If this camp is right, she won’t suffer at all. As for dignity, husband Michael Shiavo should have kept this from becoming a local issue, then a regional issue and now a national issue. Now Terri Shiavo’s option for a private death with dignity is long past. Like funerals, her treatment has little to do with the dead. This has more to do with the living and how they can best cope with the loss. He could have allowed Terri’s parents to follow whatever course they felt was best. If he’s right, then therapy and life support won’t hurt Terri at all, and it would help her parents. If he just wanted out, he could have pursued a divorce years ago and let her parents handle it. It couldn’t hurt Terri, and his in-law relationship would be better than he has now. The second inconsistency belongs to the other camp. The Florida legislature passed a bill specific to this case authorizing Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene, and he did. This action effectively says that the courts are fallible. This case has been through numerous courts that have reviewed all the complications and intricacies. After long hearings, appeals and new hearings over five years, the courts ruled for Michael Shaivo and the removal of the feeding tubes. But since this is a matter of life and death, the legislature and Bush thought they should intervene. However, in recent memory they haven’t intervened in Florida executions. All executions are about life and death, and they all go through the Florida courts, the courts Bush and the legislature now hold as fallible. If the motivations of the legislature and the governor are about life and assuring the state makes the right decision, they would intervene in every case like Terri Shiavo’s, and they would intervene in every execution. The courts are fallible in life-and-death criminal cases, too, yet the politicians don’t intervene on individual cases, and they shouldn’t. For the politicians, this is really about politics. It’s a way of gaining notoriety among a core constituency as 2004 campaigns get rolling, and they prove it by singling out this one high-visibility case. If they want to prove otherwise, they’ll have to intervene in the next state execution and in the next life-support case. Don’t hold your breath.