Sunday, March 20, 2005


Everyone is talking about the Schiavo case. Whether this woman should be allowed to die after lingering so long in a vegetative state. We’ve heard these debates before and we will continue to hear them again. This debate will not end because there is no solution.

How can a solution be found when none of us have a point of reference in the matter? How can anyone provide an opinion on death vs life when none of us have ever encountered, read, studied, or explored the land of death and the inhabitants thereof? How can we discuss dying with dignity when we know nothing? When none of us are versed in the matter?

But what we do know from residing in the land of the Living is that at birth an infant’s needs are simple. All they want for quality of life is food, water, warmth, and comfort. This is as basic and simple as quality of life can get. And when facing death these again become the simplified needs of an individual. That much we do know so let’s provide that if we possibly can.

But insofar as the rest of it, knowing nothing, we need to allow people to captain their own fate, their own vessel, as we know nothing about the coastline, the rocks, or the destination. If that sounds like the right to die with dignity, in one sense it is, but not according to most interpretations.

Most of us believe that the right to die is directly related to an individual’s willingness to live or die and it is this belief that made some (who pretend they have points of reference where they have none) scab notions like the right to die and the merit of euthanasia. And although I, too, agree with the willingness or unwillingness belief, I must emphatically state that I do not agree with the proposed solutions – because, as I’ve already explained, I know nothing about death and neither do you.

Don’t tell me you haven’t heard the phrase again and again. "I don’t know why she/he died. I guess they just lost the will to live." You’ve heard that time and time again from relatives of the deceased, or doctors, or neighbours, or friends. So if that be true, there is a controlling factor on one’s right to live or die, a rather efficient controlling factor.

And if we are to honor this controlling factor, and at the same time, admit we know nothing about the state of death, then I think this is all we have from which to draw a solution. But we cannot honor that controlling factor if we are unwilling to relinquish this responsibility from ourselves. And we cannot honor this controlling factor if we insist on tainting an instinct that is so personal to each individual. Whether or not a person can state their willingness or unwillingness is of no matter.

Doctors and others will be the first to concur that this state of mind (willingness or unwillingness to die) continues to function in the walls of every hospital. But I think it will function even better when we become a society that believes it and depends upon it. When you are old or your health has deteriorated because of disease and you want to die, and know that in wanting to die, you will die more quickly, more easily, that you might otherwise, that becomes more likely to happen. Investigators have proved that with research on curses in primitive tribes. When a death curse is put on someone, and they believe it will work, researchers have found an amazingly large percentage of them died without evidence of any physical malady.

And to me, this is why it is so important that we never contaminate an individual’s own instinctive willingness to live or die with influences that suggest unreasonable hope or suggest immediate death. Intuition has a phenomenal strength in it but the plasma that attaches it is fragile and easily severed. Our intuition is as individual as we are. Strong if we let it be. Incredibly weak, when assaulted, because with such individualism, it is unwilling to gather a coalition to assist in a fight against outside forces.

Unfortunately contamination by experts who have no knowledge and no point of reference dictate beliefs and assumptions that chew away and tatter that fragile connection. Isn’t it truly amazing how sceptical we remain about intuition when it consistently advises us without fail? How often did your intuition tell you beforehand about the fraudulent salesman, the bad relationship, the biting dog, the disloyal boss, the disturbed child, the abusive mother, the everything that later down the road somewhere, turned out to be so correct. But still we cross-examine intuitive messages and ignore them because the message sent is contrary to expert or popular opinion.

We need a point of reference on death. But we don’t have one. So no matter how long we discuss these matters, no matter how many laws we draft, or slate, or pass, we are still going to get it all wrong.

And the reason I say this is because of a completely unrelated observation. One fall while babysitting a 3-year-old, the child was put down for a nap. And while he was sleeping there came the first winter snowfall. Mountains of fresh snow. So when the child awoke and looked out the window the world looked radically different.

"Oh, Roberta," he said to me, "look at all the cottage cheese!"

That was a reasonable conclusion because at his young age, he had no terms of reference. He did not remember snow from last year or the year before. He couldn’t remember having every visited a place with snow. This is a mundane situation but I think it demonstrates my point. That without any points of reference, do you see how wrong we might be?

But there is a place between Death and Life that people have journeyed back from. The unconscious or semi-conscious state. And those that have returned say this is a place of nothingness -- no fear, no pain, no threat. So in our willingness to comfort and care for others, can’t be just continue to do the basics of providing food and water and comfort for a person existing in this world until they return to us or leave? I can’t agree that in the Shiavo case, that food and water should be withheld. Because, though outwardly it is a dreadful state to be in, inwardly it is not. And because too many times physicians are wrong in their determination of whether or not a patient can recover.

Terri Schiavo, in her simplistic state may not find life as difficult as it is for her parents who are no doubt fatigued by their thousands of silent visitations. Of anxious thoughts about the right course of action. Of having to try to stare down their own mortality each time they enter her room. That might be the most painful aspect of all. My heart indeed goes out to them.

But if the doctors are right, that there is no brain activity, that means that Terri is in a state of nothingness. And if we accept there is no brain activity I think that amidst that sea of nothingness, an intuition is still present that commands a will to live. Dignity, I believe, is allowing that intuition to lead the way. That is the controlling factor and why should we jump in and pull the plug when we know nothing. With no terms of reference, all opinions are discounted.


Anonymous ilona said...

I commented on your cross-post at AA

5:51 AM  
Blogger Desiree said...

I saw that you wrote this post the other day... it was again brought to light just now as I was out driving home from grocery shopping. I heard a call in show on the radio and gave this further thought. I really am astounded this was allowed to drag out now for nearly 15 years.
Certainly time has proven that Terry has no quality of life, really, has no life. I feel the parents have been very very wrong in intervening. This woman was married, and in that (unless it can be proven her husband did not care for her, love her and have her best interests at heart) he should be the one making the decision on her behalf. I have a problem with the fact that the parents of this married woman feel they should be makin decisions for her.

I have seen people again and again in the hospital face situations like this (more so back when I was a full-time Medical nurse). There comes a time with some disease conditions and with some accidental injuries where the decision to pull artificial life support needs to be made. I can see where some say that after several months some have pulled out of the coma and regained consciousness, but after FIFTEEN YEARS... not likely. It seems it is time for the parents to realize their girl is gone.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Desiree, you missed the point. We cannot assess quality of life when quality of death is a complete unknown.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Desiree said...

That may have been your point, Aunt Roberta, but my point is that the husband ought to be the one to be making the decision. As for your point in quality of life... I feel that yes, we can assess quality of life based on life. Quality of death, however, would be a seperate issue which truly is an unkown and I don't belive that quality of death is really the issue, but the process of dying. Some may have no experience in seeing death, or little, but then some have seen more death and there is experiencre and learning that take place in witnessing death as health-care workers do, as family members, friends and various others do.

It is interesting that your post led to the thoughts that I had, and though it may not exactly be what you intended to discuss it is related to the post. I make no appologies for 'missing the point' but do take offence to your statement that I missed it. I would like to think that a discussion to a blog post can venture to different directions, that there is not a rigid course that must be followed. I'll bow on out of your blog now, dear Old Aunt Roberta, as I apparently am not on the right line of thinking for you.

8:17 AM  
Blogger coffee goddess said...

There are a number of points, but what I find interesting is that the argument has taken on a different tone. The media paints two issues: right to life, and the husband vs the parents. Meanwhile, Bush takes his 'Divine Right' of Rule further backed by his supporters in the Congress. many opportunities for debate in so many more directions.

What seems to be lost is that Terry herself requested this. That she made these wishes known has never been in question. Even her parents have acknowledged this. This, then is the problem that has me so enraged. I will acknowledge that the Schindlers are deeply devoted to their religious beliefs and that they are driven by this devotion. I will respect their beliefs even though I cannot understand the logic nor sensibility. However, I am deeply troubled that, by ignorring their daughter's wishes, they are disrespecting the very life they are so intent on maintaining.


If this whole fiasco has succeeded in one thing, it is that all over the world, discussion has been initiated between spouses, partners, and family members regarding their own intentions. Husbands and wives are turning to one another and saying, "let me go" or "do all you can". I think too, many are realizing the importance of getting these wishes written down.

Thank goodness that here where I live, my province DOES recognise Living Wills.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

I would be the first to admit mothers are 'selfish' when it comes to protecting their young from harm. But that is an instinct of nature, difficult to ignore, difficult to override. I can't even imagine being in Terri's mother's position but my heart really aches when I try.

1:21 PM  

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