"What Terri Schiavo manifests is a classic vegetative state," he said to the Post. "It looks like she's looking at you, but really she's not. It looks like she's grinning at you, but she's really not." Cranford added that she does not show key signs of consciousness -- the ability to "track" with her eyes." (Marus, 2003)
Euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is a contentious issue. But Terri's case was an exception when it came to discussing it in the context of euthanasia. In mercy killing, it's usually the patient himself deciding his fate but in Terri's case it was her guardian choosing how she died. Thus we need to understand that Terri's case was not an ordinary euthanasia case. The government has always maintained a pro-life stance. The Church also doesn't allow mercy killing in any form or shape. Terri's death was also termed a murder by the Vatican. There have been many euthanasia cases in the past that may help us understand the Terri case better.
In Washington vs. Glucksberg case of 1997, Supreme Court made it clear that a complete ban on doctor-assisted suicide doesn't violate the provisions of Fourteenth Amendment. The Court explicitly rejected the plaintiffs' claim that right of liberty extends to use of suicide by terminally ill people. In this case, doctors filed a petition objecting to Washington's ban on physician-assisted suicide. The Supreme Court studied the case from various angles and came to the conclusion that suicide itself is a pervasive problem in the country and it would thus be senseless to allow physician-assisted suicide to people suffering from chronic illnesses.
The Supreme Court gave some very logical arguments in favor of its decision to uphold the ban. Washington Post (1997) printed excerpts of this important court decision and wrote, "[The Court stated] First, Washington has an "unqualified interest in the preservation of human life . . . The State has an interest in preventing suicide, and in studying, identifying, and treating its causes . . .. Research indicates, however, that many people who request physician-assisted suicide withdraw that request if their depression and pain are treated . ... Next, the State has an interest in protecting vulnerable groups -- including the poor, the elderly, and disabled persons -- from abuse, neglect, and mistakes . ... If physician-assisted suicide were permitted, many might resort to it to spare their families the substantial financial burden of end of life health care costs "
It must also be borne in mind that assisted suicide if permitted can easily lead to many unwanted deaths. This is because doctors would see it as the easy way out in cases which could have otherwise been treated successfully in the long run. Terri Schiavo should have been allowed to live despite her failing health and poor condition. This is because while her condition was deteriorating, she was not exactly dead and was breathing normally. The reason I feel Terri should have lived is because sanction mercy killing is an easy way out for guardians who are burdened by the presence of a sick person. The healthcare costs involved are also one of the reasons why Michael might have wanted Terri dead. We should not be judgmental but it appears that Michael was operating less from concern for his wife and more from concern about costs involved.
This situation raises serious questions about life-ethics. Why do we really value a life? Wasn't Terri's life important? Why do we say her lifer had become meaningless? If her life was meaningless, does it mean that every person suffering from autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy etc. should also be killed since they cannot contribute to the society in the same way a healthy person can. These are extremely important questions -- answers to which must be sought in order to decide further course of action in connection with euthanasia cases.
1) Disabled state - special legislation for Terri Schiavo -- 39-year-old woman in vegetative state since 1990 Christian Century Nov 29, 2003
2) Robert Marus, Florida dispute renews life-ethics controversy - News Terri Schiavo Christian Century Nov 15, 2003
3) Excerpts from the Supreme Court decision in Washington v. Glucksberg allowing states to ban doctor-assisted suicides "The State Has…