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Lessons to be learned from Terri Schiavo

March 30, 2005 00:37

Pray that I never have to make these decisions. Also that nobody has to make them about me. In response to about the only thing I've heard about in the news for the last week, I have a few comments.

First, if you haven't already, get a living will. If you don't want to go to that much trouble because you think you're too young to die, or something equally silly, at the very least write your intentions down somewhere and sign it. It might not be much, but it'll hold up in court just nicely.

Secondly, realize what is happening when you say "I do." Marriage isn't just a legally binding excuse to have a person of the opposite sex hang around all the time for the rest of your life. You are giving another person the right to ruin you financially, to expect and demand sexual favors whenever he/she pleases. More importantly, you're giving this person the right to speak for you when you're unable to speak for yourself. If you can sift through all the moral, legal, ethical and financial mess that this issue has brought up, you'll realize that in the end, without some other evidence to her desires, Michael Schiavo has the exclusive right to make the decision whether Terri lives or dies under these circumstances. Even if she never mentioned her desires to anyone, husband included, he still has that right. Ultimately, it defers to the wedding license. She gave him permission to make that decision when she married him.

So is this a bad law? Until fairly recently, it was actually much worse. For a long time, various states had laws on the books that allowed a husband to kill his wife under certain circumstances, typically involving adultry. In some cases, it was legally impossible to rape your wife. Most of these laws have been overturned recently, but how did they exist for so long unopposed? Probably because marriage tended to be a more permanant thing. When you got married, it was forever. Divorce was an all but unheard of thing. And maybe, just maybe, when you knew it was going to be forever, you made damn sure you got the right one. You married someone you could trust with your life, especially when applied literally. So perhaps today with over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, we shouldn't be so quick to allow the spouse to be the ultimate arbiter in cases where the other spouse's life is on the line.

The problem is, this is one case. The only reason this is even an issue is that it's being challenged. For 15 years, she lay there. This isn't the first time they've removed the feeding tube. The people involved get the media riled up. That gets the politians riled up. Someone has to do something or it might cost us votes. And before, the tube gets reinserted, and everyone jumps on the next crisis of the moment. The dire issues, so important at the time, that should have been resolved, never got resolved. Time goes on, the legal system slowly churns, the same decisions are made all over again, and a few years later, the tube gets pulled again. The public outcry decends upon the case like a jack-in-the-box. We should err on the side of life. Fine, it sounds good. But we've already done that. Why didn't anyone get those critically important questions answered the last time we went through this? Because we're a reactionary society. We wait until the situation is dire, and THEN we jump on it with all fervor. During the offseason, Michael and Terri's parents are the only ones involved, and nothing else happens.

Was he the perfect husband? Probably not. There are rumors of possible broken bones. Was that caused by abuse or was it a result of improper therapy? Is Michael just trying to get rid of her so he can move on with his life? All perfectly good questions. They were all asked the last time around. Yet, in spite of years to get answers to them, nobody has. Perhaps the real reason lies in the fact that it doesn't matter what the answers to those questions are. He's still her husband. He and he alone gets to make the decision to pull that feeding tube. If you don't like that, then talk to your representatives and get some laws changed. But tread carefully, for while you'll remove the ability of your spouse to end prolonged life support against your will, you'll also remove the ability for him or her to free you from that same ailment should you wish that. You might someday be in the position to order a risky lifesaving operation on a spouse, but would now be forbidden to do so. So if that is your intent, be careful. Chances are, once this has ended, things won't change. Memories are surprisingly short term.

But if you haven't already, get a living will. Save someone you love the pain of making the ultimate choice for you.