Annihilating Terri Schiavo

By McHugh, Paul | The Human Life Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Annihilating Terri Schiavo


McHugh, Paul, The Human Life Review


During the tumultuous final weeks in the life of Terri Schiavo, the young woman who died in a Florida hospice in April, press reports in the nation's media typically focused on the bitter conflicts among members of her family over her treatment, disagreements among consultants over her state of consciousness, and the increasingly intense arguments in legislatures and the courts over her guardianship. Since her death, the case and the story of her death and dying have been mined for their bearing on our ongoing culture wars and for the debate over the place of "values" in our politics. In particular, the seeming failure of the Republican leadership to rally legislative support in favor of keeping her alive has been seized upon as evidence of the Right's overreaching, and as a lesson in the ironies of ideology. In the words of a writer in the New York Times Magazine, "the heirs to Goldwater and Reagan seemed to forget how they came to control the values debate in America in the first place: not by interfering in the moral choices of families but by promising to stop government from doing exactly that."

Many a hidden assumption lurks in that statement, not least concerning the (assumed) wishes of the dying woman herself. It is worth reminding ourselves, moreover, that she succumbed in the end by being deprived of food and water by order of the courts-which is to say, by order of government. But in what follows I want to concentrate on another, neglected aspect of this entire dismal episode.

Conspicuously missing from the chorus of voices arguing over the meaning and implications of the Schiavo case have been the views of a class of people with a uniquely relevant body of experience and insight: namely, the doctors and nurses who customarily provide care to patients like Terri Schiavo. As a result, few people appear to have grasped that the way she died was most unusual. That, instead, it has been widely understood to be not only a proper but also a perfectly commonsensical way to die, a way approved of by most doctors and nurses, can only be explained by a deep change that has taken place over the last decades in our thinking about how to care for the helpless and the disabled among us.

Let us begin with the published facts. In 1990, when Terri Schiavo was in her mid-twenties, she suffered a cardiac arrest that produced a severe cerebral anoxic injury-anoxia being an abnormally low amount of oxygen in the body's tissues-and coma. From this coma she emerged gradually, settling for the next fifteen years into an impaired state of consciousness. She could swallow, breathe, sleep, and awaken without assistance, and could react to sudden sounds with a glance, or to pain by grimacing or groaning. But she was apathetic to inner needs and external events. She was mute, mostly immobile, incontinent, psychologically blank.

For the last several years, Terri Schiavo was being treated in a hospice for terminally ill people. There she received basic nursing care for her bodily needs-she was bathed and turned on schedule-while nutritious fluids were supplied through a tube that had been inserted through her abdomen into her stomach during her earlier treatment for injury. Because of her immobility and apathy, she gradually developed muscle contractions that twisted her limbs and body into a fixed contorted posture. She suffered frequent bedsores, and, with poor oral hygiene, her teeth rotted. In this state she was sustained by the regular attention of a devoted staff and family, being financially supported by money her husband Michael had gained for her through a malpractice suit.

And so she would have remained-alive and physically stable, giving off a few signals that were possibly reflexive but were believed by some members of the hospice staff and her family to represent modest signs of awareness of her surroundings-until, within a period of years, an infection, a blood clot, or a cardio-respiratory difficulty would bring her life to an end. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Annihilating Terri Schiavo
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.