A Drama Unfolds

Regardless of who you believe, Terri Schiavo's parents or her husband,
why do we treat convicted murderers better than we are treating Terri?
March 23, 2005
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Wesley J. Smith

Imagine if you will, that convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal had a bad lawyer during his murder trial. Assume further that when the new lawyer took over the case, she found credible evidence not originally presented on Jamal’s behalf, evidence which could cast reasonable doubt upon the guilty verdict.

And then imagine that despite this newly uncovered evidence, one court after another obstinately refused to permit a new trial so that the new evidence could be considered, or even, permit the governor to use his clemency power to prevent Jamal’s execution. Worse, assume that Jamal had been sentenced to die slowly by intentional dehydration.

Unthinkable, right? Convicted murderers would never be treated so unjustly or have such a cruel punishment imposed—at least not in this day and age.

Yet, this imaginary scenario is disturbingly close to the way that a purely innocent and profoundly disabled woman named Terri Schiavo is being treated.

But, you say, Terri hasn’t been sentenced to death. She isn’t being executed.

While that is true technically, the analogy between her sentence of death and a death penalty case is apt. Terri’s food and water have been taken away, not by her husband/guardian Michael Schiavo, but at the explicit order of court (at Schiavo’s request). That means her pending death by dehydration is not just being allowed, but has been required by the state.

Not only that, Terri’s situation is akin to that of the condemned prisoner imagined above—who could be saved if only the court would consider newly discovered facts. Here is just a sampling of facts and allegations that emerged since the original trial:

  • Mr. Schiavo informed a medical malpractice jury, from which he was seeking millions of dollars in 1992, that he would care for his wife for the rest of his life, that she would live a normal life span, and that she would be provided rehabilitation and therapy. As soon as the money was in the bank, however, he refused all therapy and started to refuse medical treatment such as antibiotics. In other words, Schiavo’s story changed when he went to court in 1998 seeking her early death, casting serious doubt on his testimony that Terri would “want to die.”
  • Three nurses have signed affidavits under penalty of perjury that Mr. Schiavo used to go to Terri’s nursing home and angrily demand to know why his wife was not yet dead.
  • Friends of Terri have come forward stating that she believed in the old maxim, where there is life, there is hope. Indeed, all of her close friends and family deny that she would want to die under these circumstances.
  • Several doctors and therapists have testified in written affidavits that she is not in a persistent vegetative state, and indeed, that she could be improved with proper therapy—treatment she has been denied since 1993.
  • Dehydration may not be a painless way to die as some have asserted. Indeed, if the patient is conscious and not otherwise dying, it can be agonizing. [Weekly Standard Link]

Surely, facts and allegations of this substance presented in a death penalty case, would lead to a new trial, or at the very least, become the basis of a commutation. After all, when a human life is at stake, we strive as a society to give the benefit of every reasonable doubt to life.

But the benefit of reasonable doubts does not apply to Terri Schiavo. You see, she is not guilty of anything. If only she were a convicted murderer, her life would be seen as worthy of greater respect.

Award winning author Wesley J. Smith, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His most recent book is Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.

When a court orders the starvation of an individual, it is no longer just a private matter.

"Murdering babies because they are disabled or dying is a profound violation of their human rights. At least, it used to be. After all, German doctors who killed disabled infants during World War II faced the business side of the hangman's noose for their crimes."

"By 1993, as documented in PBS's Choosing Death, three out of eight neonatal intensive care unites in the Netherlands had specific policies, endorsed by the Dutch Pediatric Society, that permitted infanticide by lethal injection.

Rita Marker's breakthrough book Deadly Compassion (Marker leads the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide), raised the warning flag about Dutch infanticide in 1993.

In 1996, the Lancet published a study finding that 8 percent of all Dutch infant deaths each year — between 80 and 100 — result from lethal injections, many without parental consent."

Wesley J. Smith

When did doing what we want replace doing what is right?

"Divorce is always an option, not murder!"

As the Schindler's deal with yet another set back to their efforts to save their daughter, another courtroom drama comes to mind when Sharon Roca, grieving mother of Laci Peterson screamed at Laci's husband, Scott: "Divorce is always an option, not murder!" An obvious question lurking behind the drama of Michael Schiavo's efforts to have his wife's feeding tube removed is why he does not simply divorce Terri and allow her parents to care for her.

When did how one eats become the criteria for issuing a death warrant?

Survivor of vegetative coma recovers to describe "the other side"

Kate Adamson spent 70 days in a vegetative coma. During her ordeal she was acutely aware of her pain, the conversations around her and the medical treatments employed on her behalf. Unable to communicate her pain or desires, she was at the mercy of those who surrounded her. Thanks to her husband's advocacy, her life was sustained until she recovered from all but some paralysis on her left side. She is a vocal advocate for saving Terri Schiavo and providing her with appropriate therapies.

"If they want to kill Terri they should have the guts to put a gun to her head rather than condemn her to such a slow and painful death."

Adamson's witness stands in stark contrast to the ethic promoted by Peter Singer. Speaking out on behalf of Terri Schiavo Adamson asserts, “The measure of a society is how they treat the least of us. Life is sacred or meaningless, there is nothing in between.”

When does the "right to die" become the "right to kill"?

What would Peter Singer do?

Just prior to assuming his new post at Princeton University in 1999, Psychology Today published an interview with Peter Singer. Singer's controversial ethical views expressed in this interview merit revisiting as the debate rages over the fate Terri Schiavo and the profound ethical questions it raises.

Introducing the interview Psychology Today cites Singer's assertion that "religion's 2000-year domination of morality ended early this decade, specifically in 1993, when British law ruled that a comatose man named Anthony Bland could be killed by his doctors. That decision, he maintains, dealt a "mortal" blow to the unquestioned sanctity of human life.

"Psychology Today: One of the aspects of your philosophy that is most galling to some people is that you don't view human life as sacred. According to you, since a person in a vegetative coma is a being without self-awareness, he or she should be accorded fewer rights than a fully-aware chimpanzee. Needless to say, you've enraged a bunch of religious and disabled folk.

Peter Singer: But you really have to question human superiority. What justifies the things we do to animals? What justifies keeping a person in a vegetative coma alive? There are two basic views that support cruelty to animals: either you accept the Aristotelian view that the universe has a purpose and the less rational are here to serve the more rational, or you believe the Judeo-Christian view that God has given us dominion over the world. But once you get away from those two worldviews, there just isn't a basis for drawing a sharp moral boundary between us and them.

PT: How do your views differ from those of Aristotle, aside from your use of the word "sentient" in place of the word "rational?" It still seems you're placing humans right at the top of the so-called Great Chain of Being, as the most sentient and self-aware creatures.

PS: But there's a huge difference. Aristotle attributed purpose to the universe, and I don't. He was wrong to think that the universe is constructed on some teleological principle.

Mary and Bob Schindler believe that Michael Schiavo has torn up his "spousal rights" card for these reasons:

Here is the Schindler's List

  • More than two years ago, the Schindlers' former attorneys told Greer that a 1991 bone scan revealing several fractures on Terri raised questions on abuse.
  • Terri, on Mr. Schiavo’s orders, has had no therapy of any kind since the Fall of 1991.
  • At a medical malpractice trial in November 1992, Mr. Schiavo swore to the jury that he would devote any jury award to Terri’s care and rehabilitation and he promised under oath that he would take care of Terri for the rest of his life.
  • After securing an award of over $700,000 for Terri’s care, Mr. Schiavo did an about-face, and has spent the last 10 years in a determined campaign to cause Terri’s death.
  • This campaign began within a few months of the malpractice award, when, in mid-1993, Mr. Schiavo had a “do not resuscitate” order placed in Terri’s medical chart.
  • In June of 1993 Mr. Schiavo refused to allow treatment of an infection Terri had developed, later admitting under oath that he expected the infection to progress to a fatal sepsis that would kill Terri.
  • In 1995, contrary to his promises to the jury that he would honor his marriage vows, Mr. Schiavo, who still pretends to be Terri’s “loving” and “grieving” husband, began living with another woman, by whom he has conceived two children out-of-wedlock. He calls this woman his fiancée, even while his wife Terri lays starving and dehydrating to death in hospice for the terminally ill---to which he consigned her three years ago so that she would receive no therapy.
  • It was not until 1998, when Mr. Schiavo hired Mr. Felos, that Mr. Schiavo suddenly “remembered” that Terri had made some vague remarks about not wanting to be sustained on anything “artificial” if she became incapacitated.
  • When he promised the malpractice jury back in 1993 that he would take care of Terri for the rest of his life, Mr. Schiavo said nothing to the jury about Terri not wanting to be sustained on anything “artificial.”
  • Mr. Schiavo’s crocodile tears and his statement that “I struggle with” the Court’s order to starve and dehydrate Terri defy belief. That order is the end result of Mr. Schiavo’s utter determination to see Terri dead so that he can marry his “fiancée.”
  • Even though he has no Court order authorizing his actions, Mr. Schiavo has not only removed the feeding tube that has sustained our Terri for 13 years, but has also ordered that no attempt be made to feed Terri by mouth, even if she could be trained to take sustenance orally.
  • On Saturday, October 18, 2003, one of Mr. Schiavo’s team of lawyers refused to allow our Terri to receive her final Holy Communion. This lawyer would not even allow Msgr. Malanowski to place a miniscule piece of the Host on her tongue. Perhaps Michael fears that if Terri can swallow a piece of the Host, the whole world will know he is starving a helpless woman who can take sustenance by mouth.
  • Mr. Schiavo has spent the great bulk of Terri’s malpractice award on legal fees for Mr. Felos, in an effort to have Terri killed. He spent nothing on Terri’s therapy and rehabilitation---contrary to the promises he made to the jury, under oath, more than ten years ago.

  Wesley J. Smith's
Smith is an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. His book Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (1997), a broad-based criticism of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement was published in 1997. His book Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, a warning about the dangers of the modern bioethics movement, was named One of the Ten Outstanding Books of the Year and Best Health Book of the Year for 2001 (Independent Publisher Book Awards). Smith is an international lecturer and public speaker, appearing frequently at political, university, medical, legal, disability rights, bioethics, and community gatherings across the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.

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