Deciding 'Quality of Life'; Don't Let Terri Schiavo Starve to Death

Article excerpt

Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The right-to-die - or right-to-life - case of Terri Schiavo has ignited an essential national debate on who has the authority to decide on the "quality of life" and whether life continues. Although brain-injured, Mrs. Schiavo is neither brain-dead nor terminal. And not all neurologists agree she's in "a persistent vegetative state." But her husband, Michael Schiavo, ordered her feeding tube removed Oct. 15.

The Florida legislature has intervened in the case, giving Gov. Jeb Bush the power to overrule her husband and reinsert the feeding tube. Mr. Schiavo has gone to court to have the feeding tube removed again. She would then starve to death. Initially, the resultant furor across the nation at this form of "death with dignity"- in the phrase of right-to-die proponents - pressured the legislature to act.

Mr. Bush was already in favor of Mrs. Schiavo's right to stay alive, emphasizing that "it is only the lack of food and water that will cause her death," and that she "is not comatose."

However, an array of lawyers, doctors, bioethicists and - to my dismay - the American Civil Liberties Union support her husband's right to end her life.

Harvard University's eminent professor of constitutional law, Laurence Tribe, told the New York Times that he disagrees with the interference of Florida's legislature and governor. By not supporting Mr. Schiavo's testimony stating that he knows what Mrs. Schiavo would have wanted, they "fundamentally violate her right to bodily integrity," according to Mr. Tribe, as well as the separation of powers in our government that gives the judiciary the final say over the legislature. Other lawyers disagree.

I do not have a law degree, but I would have thought that the ultimate violation of anyone's bodily integrity is to starve a person to death.

The witnesses to Mrs. Schiavo's alleged statement, when she could speak, that she did not want to stay alive "by artificial means" are her husband, his brother and his brother's wife. But Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who have fought all of these years for her life, vigorously deny ever hearing their daughter say anything of the sort. Whatever Mrs. Schiavo may or may not have said, did she want to starve to death when she spoke of "artificial means"?

Mr. Schiavo is so determined to remove his wife's feeding tube that, after the order was given to reinsert it, one of his lawyers faxed a letter to doctors in Pinellas County, where the procedure was to be done, threatening to sue any doctor who reconnected the feeding tube because Mrs. …