Of Mercy Killing and Killing Mercy

The clock is ticking. Chances are Terri Schiavo will be allowed to die in peace. Time flows and minutes and days pile up like autumnal leaves. Chances are time, the great equalizer, will rule above all judges and members of Congress. No appeals there. No higher authority. No way back.
Almost 30 years ago, to the date, another young woman, 22 years old and single, Karen Ann Quinlan, collapsed at a party from overdosing on sleeping pills and alcohol. She stopped breathing for long periods and by the time she was treated at the hospital, she was brain dead. A few days later she was declared:

as being in a “chronic persistent vegetative state.” Dr. Fred Plum, one of such expert witnesses, defined this as a “subject who remains with the capacity to maintain the vegetative parts of neurological function but who . . . no longer has any cognitive function.” . . .

Her breathing was assisted by a respirator and was fed by a tube. Her parents, in their right mind, after exhausting every bit of hope that their daughter could regain consciousness, requested her respirator to be disconnected and Karen be allowed to die in peace. Karen’s doctors and the hospital, refused. What ensued was a long court battle and a landmark ruling in favor of the parents. They were granted their wish to spare their daughter from an unknown amount of time suspended between here and there. The ruling was to disconnect her breathing support apparatus, not her feeding tube. In a interesting turn of events, her breathing assistance was disconnected and she kept breathing on her own. It took almost 10 more years for her to die from pneumonia. She died in 1985.
The main issue was the inability of a patient to make her own decisions and one of guardianship:

#18. Our affirmation of Karen’s independent right of choice, however, would ordinarily be based upon her competency to assert it. The sad truth, however, is that she is grossly incompetent and we cannot discern her supposed choice based on the testimony of her previous conversations with friends, where such testimony is without sufficient probative weight. . . . Nevertheless we have concluded that Karen’s right of privacy may be asserted on her behalf by her guardian under the peculiar circumstances here present.
#19. If a putative decision by Karen to permit this non-cognitive, vegetative existence to terminate by natural forces is regarded as a valuable incident of her right of privacy, as we believe it to be, then it should not be discarded solely on the basis that her condition prevents her conscious exercise of the choice. The only practical way to prevent destruction of the right is to permit the guardian and family of Karen to render their best judgment, subject to the qualifications hereinafter stated, as to whether she would exercise it in these circumstances. If their conclusion is in the affirmative this decision should be accepted by a society the overwhelming majority of whose members would, we think, in similar circumstances, exercise such a choice in the same way for themselves or for those closest to them. It is for this reason that we determine that Karen’s right of privacy may be asserted in her behalf, in this respect, by her guardian and family under the particular circumstances presented by this record.

In that case, Karen’s guardians, her own parents, opted for sparing her a life akin to a house plant. Humans don’t fit well in the Vegetable Kingdom. Her condition denied her even the limbic, reactive, feral consciousness of an animal. In my opinion, no human being deserves such a life. Her parents, her acting guardians, asked for, and received, the right to provide Karen with a mercy killing. That the ruling only contemplated the disconnection of her breathing assistance and she continued to breath on her own, does not deny the fact the ruling was a victory for the rights of guardians to decide what they consider the best for their protégé, if and when said person has no hope to ever make decisions for him/herself.
On the other side of the spectrum we have the sad situation of Terri Schiavo, who’s the unwilling ping-pong ball between her husband’s desire to grant Terri’s wishes of a merciful passing and her parents who want her to cling to a life that just not there and never will. Terri’s court appointed Guardian, Jay Wolfson, after two month of close contact with Terri, appeared to lean towards disconnecting her feeding tube. The above link is to an interesting article in Shady Radio and says in part:

Also, Wolfson concluded, Schiavo would never have tolerated the enormous, “omnipresent” acrimony between her husband and parents.
In the 38-page report he wrote afterwards, Wolfson said the best decision for Schiavo could be made only if both sides agreed to fresh, independent medical testing. If the new testing showed she couldn’t swallow on her own and that Schiavo had no hope for improvement, then the feeding tube should be pulled.

And then, it appears that all efforts for forming such an independent panel went up in smoke. Countless judges making decisions, three Supreme Court hearings denying hearing the case and sending it back to the State of Florida, and all that to end with a sort of legal consensus that she should be allowed to die. Her right to a merciful end. Then, enter the right wing politicians and their holier than thou attitude toward life and righteousness. All the way to the top it went (it seems that one step above that is God). G.W.Bush is assuming the role of God’s Archangel and ruled that Terri should LIVE… If that isn’t killing mercy, I don’t know what is.
The battle is not over. Thankfully, there’s still some separation between the Judicial and Executive branches of government. The lines are being blurred as we speak. Still there though. I hope reason, and mercy, prevails.

Just Rants

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