RESPECT AND CARE
AN ALTERNATIVE FRAMEWORK
If it is the individual human being who is important and to whom our responsibilities are owed—rather than an abstract preservation of life—how do we best respond?
The drama surrounding the battle over Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was rich in visual images. One of the most enduring of these images was that of Terri herself in the videotape that her parents provided to the media—footage that appeared to show Terri responding to her mother's caring inquiries. Even if one understood that expert doctors who had examined Terri had repeatedly confirmed that she was permanently unconscious, that these videotapes were actually consistent with the vegetative state, and that the footage repeatedly shown on television was deliberately edited from hours of videotape that showed no response from Terri, it was hard to escape a nagging feeling of doubt about her condition and its permanence. Was she responding? She moved her head to the right as her mother spoke to her from that direction. Could she hear? Did she recognize her mother's voice? Could she see? Was that a smile on Terri's lips?
On the one hand, the videotape revealed Terri's utter vulnerability and could evoke feelings of protectiveness toward people who are severely disabled. On the other hand, many people, both in surveys and in casual conversation, revealed that whatever condition Terri was in—even if that might have been a slight smile on her face—it would be an intolerable existence for them and they would choose death in that situation over life.
The controversy surrounding the removal of Terri's feeding tube seemed to be in large part about these conflicting reactions—the need to protect vulnerable life and the desire of individuals to choose their own destiny. And our ensconced constitutional framework,