October 24 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 31  

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The law's role in life and death

Ad Nauseam
Anton Vidgen

News Editor

On the orders of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a feeding tube was recently re-inserted into Terri Schiavo, a woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state since a heart attack in 1990.

Ms. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, won a court battle about a week ago to have the feeding tube removed, against the wishes of her parents. Mr. Schiavo said his wife would never have wanted to be kept alive artificially and that he is simply fulfilling her wish.

In a 1990 United States Supreme Court decision, if "clear and convincing evidence" proved a person rendered comatose would choose to die (for example, explicitly stated in a will), then steps could be taken to act on that wish. In this case, no evidence exists, which is why this disagreement over Ms. Schiavo's life is breaking new legal ground.

But this is an especially tragic situation given the ludicrous amount of political and judicial interference and inescapable influences Ms. Schiavo would surely want to do without.

Assisted suicide - and individual suicide, for that matter - should not be a legal concern. It's as if the courts were given the ability to tell an individual how to eat their cereal; they simply have no place.

Death is an intensely personal matter. But where circumstances dictate the involvement of others, death becomes a shared responsibility, where emotions can cloud reasonable judgment.

I am not advocating the elimination of emotions in such situations (they're impossible to get rid of anyway), but instead asking for all parties involved to look at whose interests are the most important. Of course, the interests of the victim, in this case Ms. Schiavo, are always paramount.

Not to be presumptuous, but such a situation in which Ms. Schiavo cannot eat, walk, talk or do anything for herself, is surely intolerable, especially given she has been subjected to this torture for well over a decade.

But, for the sake of argument, say Ms. Schiavo is inwardly content and perhaps even happy and only outwardly displays a tormented persona. Her inability to personally progress or interact with the outside world would be an increasingly difficult burden to live with, especially seeing how she is surrounded by a loving family. Not being able to express love to your family and friends is a condition no one should be afflicted with. Death can indeed be a saviour.

The argument is often made that it is morally wrong to deny someone life. But it then holds true it is equally inhuman to deny someone death. This is exactly what's happening in Florida and elsewhere around the world where the medical technology exists to prolong a diseased life.

The law does not necessarily need changing; we do.




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