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How to serve Human vegetables

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 23, 2005


"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." — Oscar Wilde

Child abuse comes in many forms. Sometimes it is a violent slap, a hash word, or scalding water. Sometimes it is neglect, molestation, over protection, or abandonment. Often at the hands of strangers, child abuse is usually the work of parents. One need only look at Michael Jackson's father, Joseph, or the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo to see evidence of how child abuse is a gift that keeps on giving. Some parents just won't let go.

In 1990, 26 year-old Terri Schiavo collapsed in her Florida home when her heart stopped due to a potassium imbalance induced by severe bulimia nervosa. Hypokalemic cardiac arrest robbed Terri's brain of oxygen before she could be revived, resulting in brain death. In other words, heart failure, common in young women with severe eating disorders, left a bulimic Terri Schiavo in a permanent vegetative state.

PVS, also known as "cortical death," is the irreversible loss of the part of the brain controlling judgment and reason. Physical functions and reflexes remain intact in varying degrees, but meaningful life is gone. Unable to function or care for herself, Ms. Schiavo had been kept alive by a feeding and hydration tube, as she was incapable of eating or drinking.

Understanding her wishes, Michael Schiavo knew his wife would not choose to live as a vegetable, and sought to allow his wife to pass away gracefully. Terri's parents had other ideas for their daughter. For 15 years, Robert and Mary Schindler fought to save their daughter from an untimely death. Fighting through every court available to them, they refused their daughter a dignified death, instead turning her into a freakish sideshow of god and politics. Four trips to the Supreme Court only delayed the inevitable.

Speaking only for myself, I must admit to enjoying the absurd irony of a brain dead bulimic woman being keep alive through forced feeding.

Forgive me if I come across as cold, but in a world of seven billion humans it seems wrong to artificially prolong the life of a vegetative individual, when the resources needed could be better spent treating people who could actually recover from their injuries. The only ones profiting from vegetative invalids, are medical interests specializing in maintaining vegetative invalids. The only people who benefit from Terri's marginal existence, are those unwilling to let a troubled woman rest in peace.

Complicit in the shameful sensationalism surrounding the slow demise of Theresa Marie Schiavo is the mainstream media. Nowhere in the reporting offered by broadcast journalism is mention of the role bulimia played in the initial injury to Ms. Schiavo's brain, or the ethics of keeping her alive through extreme measures, against her wishes.

How Robert and Mary Schindler profit from their brain dead daughter is a question better asked of them. I would also ask them how keeping Terri a vegetable benefits her or her memory? A bulimic, it is unlikely Ms. Schiavo, would want a feeding tube surgically inserted into her stomach.

In the last week of her life Terri became an unwilling martyr of the religious right and morally corrupt politicians. Republicans Tom Delay, Bill Frist, the Bush Brothers, and Hillary Clinton also contributed to the sideshow, making a mockery of themselves by shamelessly using their positions of power to pander to a narrow minority of religious nuts unwilling to admit the life they wished to impose on a brain dead Theresa Marie Schiavo was just another form of torture.

Dead, Terri Schiavo does nothing for the economy. Brain dead, Terri is a cottage industry in Florida, and a cash cow for cable news. Why talk about mercury pollution, or the destruction of artic wilderness when you can employ talking heads, as clueless as the woman they exploit, to discuss the best way to serve human vegetables.

It is time for American culture to realize an unwillingness to allow for dignified death undermines the sanctity of life. Unfortunately, quality of life is confused with quantity of life in a society nurtured on the illusion of more is always better.

If there is to be a silver lining in the Schiavo sideshow perhaps her role as political football will encourage all Californians to prepare a living will. The broadcast images of Ms. Schiavo were enough to prompt me to document my last wishes. I have no desire to be maintained in a vegetative state, making that known in writing will insure that I won't.

Sadly, Theresa Marie Schiavo did not take such precautions, and everyone suffered because of it.

Such is life.

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