On March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo passed away after battling starvation and dehydration for nearly fourteen days. By order of her legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, her family was not allowed near during her final hours. Some people do not know the facts about Terri Schiavos life and death.
Her husband claims that Terri verbally told him that “I don't want to be kept alive on a machine.” This, however, comes as a surprise, to say the least, since Terri was an active member of the Catholic Church. When Terri's lawyer – three days after she was cut off from life support – told her that they could connect her back to life if she tells them to, she made an attempt to speak and tried to save her own life. But she died before her wishes could be expressed.
A Persistent Vegetative State is defined as severe brain damage which causes a state of “wakefulness without awareness.” Patients with the following symptoms are said to be in a Persistent Vegetative State:
– The absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of ANY kind.
– An inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment.
According to medical records, Terri Schiavo was completely aware of the environment she was in. She tried to physically distance herself from irritating or painful stimulation. She would react to her family members, follow objects with her eyes and even mumble very small, unclear words from time to time. Her behavior does not meet the medical or statutory definition of Persistent Vegetative State.
So what did Terri really want? Are we to take the word of a man who has allegedly abused her, even while incapacitated and has moved on to form a new family and engaged a new fiancé, or should we allow Terri's poor grieving parents some shred of hope that one day their daughter may recover.
After considering the astonishing lack of action on Michael Schiavo's part, denying Terri rehabilitation for 10 years after her accident, I hope that the answer is clear: when deciding on someone's life, we should always err on the side of life because in the event that it wasn't her wish to die, or that she was somewhat conscious, we have just condemned an innocent woman to death — and in such a fashion that it would be considered a gross human rights violation if done to anyone else.
So why, then, should we force this poor, innocent woman to endure such a death in a society where one of our greatest values is the protection of those who can't protect themselves? Or more importantly, why wasn't this question asked before her feeding tube was removed and she was forced to starve to death for 13 days before she finally died?
Jordan Cross and Cid Davoodi are young teenagers living in Toronto, Canada.