What a week. The Reaper scored big this week as far as big names
and big events goes. Terry Schiavo, Johnny Cochran, hundreds of
Indonesians (due to the earthquake) died and the Pope may not survive
the week. Good grief.
You know, I’ve been trying to understand this whole ordeal with the
Schiavos over the past months. I’ve heard so many opinions when
all I wanted was to get the facts. But everyone I listened to had
“facts” that were influenced, biased, and colored by their position on
the issue. Argh. That’s very frustrating.
One side says she’s in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and the
other side says that she’s brain damaged (also referred to as disabled
or handicapped) but responsive. One side says that the CT scans
showed that she had no consciousness and the other says that the scans
don’t prove anything.
Although, Dr. Gupta on CNN said that the CT scans show that she had
fluid on or in her brain — indicated by the black areas — but that
some people with similar scans are merely brain damaged while others
with scans that are not dramatic at all like that are in a PVS.
I was also wondering why this case — of all cases — became the
nationally divisive issue that it did. But the more I hear, the
more I understand why. It really is a very complex and nuanced
set of circumstances. It was a tragic case with no easy way
out. Well, that depends on your beliefs, of course. But
legally, socially, familially (if that’s a word) it’s so
difficult. Then the courts were involved and then the governor,
then Congress, and then the President. Not necessarily in that
I don’t think this is a conservative/liberal issue, though.
Y’know, I think that it’s wrong to withhold food and water from a
living being, regardless of the level of consciousness. If Terri
Schiavo were comatose or on respiratory support that would have been
different. But withholding nutrients?
I’m trying not to use polemic terms like “starve” but you know
what? Euphemisms are a pet peeve of mine. George Carlin did
a routine a few years ago about how we dumb down language and avoid the
impact of issues by coming up with gentler phrases for things. He
said that when soldiers came back from wars and they were all messed up
we used to call it “Shell Shock”. Shell shock (Carlin did a kind
of punching motion with his arm when he said it). It really does
drive home the point. It sounds harsh because it is, right.
Actually, I think he said that during WWII they called it shell
shock. During the Korean War they called it “Battle
Fatigue”. That sounds a lot less harsh but it still conveys the
point that something is wrong. Instead of the image of being
shocked or damaged by the machinery of war you get a picture of someone
coming home from the battle field being worn out.
Then he said that during the Vietnam War they — whoever they are —
called it “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. From two
straightforward syllables (shell shock) to eight round-about syllables
(post-traumatic stress disorder). What does that even mean?
Instead of the result of the brutality of war it became a clinical,
psychological event loosely correlated to the experiences of a
We hide behind language and we manipulate it so that it serves us and
makes us feel good about ourselves. Or we use it to make other
people feel bad about themselves. You know. to control a
situation. Good, bad, or somewhere inbetween it’s a natural part
of being human and living with language.
That’s why supporters of Terry Schiavo’s parents coined terms like “err
on the side of life” and “culture of life”. And it’s why
supporters of Michael Schiavo and the media, in an attempt to use
language as neutrally as possible, used terms like “withhold
nutrients”. And that’s why everyone described Terri Schiavo’s
decline, shall we say, as “her death process”.
If you withhold nutrients from a living organism you’re starving that
organism to death. If you withhold nutrients from a human being
you’re starving that human being to death. Whether or not we
think that person can feel the pain to suffer, and regardless of the
intent, that’s what’s happening.
Believe me, I’m aware of the many facets of this dicussion. I’ve
had a few good conversations about the issue. I can understand
Michael Schiavo’s point of view. And I can understand her
parents’ point of view, too. Tragic all around and it’s sad how
this affected the families to the point where they’re going to have
separate funerals. Now that’s rancor.
If I’m ever in that situation — I mean, if I’m ever in a severely
brain damaged state — there are a few things I’d like to request.
1. If there’s any sign of consciousness — even a hint of
responsiveness — I want an attempt at rehabilitation. Give me a
2. I want to be able to have therapeutic time with a dog and other
animals. I like animals. And dogs are stimulating and
tactile. Put a puppy in my lap or on my chest or something.
Face-licking (by the dog) is allowed. I’m serious about this.
3. If you have to withhold respiration or nutrients, dope me up.
I want pain suppressors whether or not the medical establishment thinks
I can feel pain or not.
4. If all else fails and I become a financial burden then pull the proverbial plug. It’s alright.
That’s all I can think of at the moment. There was something else
I meant to do tonight but I can’t remember what it is. Oh
well. I’m sure I’ll remember after I’m comfy and snug under the
Hasta la vista, baby.