Death Watch


Remember how the feminists crowed when they won — in Roe vs Wade — the right to kill unwanted babies? Little did they suspect that the same logic would produce a right to kill unwanted wives!

If you want to see the utter moral bankruptcy of the feminist movement — and of the larger “liberal” enterprise — just look at who is lining up on which side in the Terry Schiavo case. Who sides with a husband hell-bent on killing his wife? And I do mean hell-bent! And who is trying to protect the unwanted wife, and moving heaven and earth to save her life?

The genuine liberals, the classical 19th century liberals, are all in the Republican Party now.

While public opinion shapes law, it is also the case that law shapes public opinion. In 1973, all fifty state legislatures had laws against abortion –laws which reflected the popular will at that time. Unable to win what they wanted in the state legislatures, the liberals turned to the Supreme Court to make an end-run around the democratic process. I use the word “liberal” in its modern sense, of course, to mean “illiberal.”

At the time, the majority of Americans clearly considered abortion to be immoral, but thirty years of abortion-on-demand has changed public opinion. Nowadays even many religious Jews consider mass killing to be just the price we have to pay for freedom. Too bad, so sad, shrug.

In my usual parodoxical way, I am paralyzed by having too much to say rather than too little. I’ve been trying to write this essay for days, but will have to give up. Rather than try to write something orderly and systematic, I will extrude thoughts in whatever order they happen to come to me.

By the time you read this, Terri Schiavo may be dead. What would have been unthinkable before Roe vs Wade now seems the next logical step: the legal abortion of dependent adults. It took just thirty years to reach this point. Polls show that the majority of Americans now agree: helpless, dependent, inarticulate human beings who cause serious inconvenience to their caretakers should not be kept alive.

I live in Florida, where Terri’s case was being discussed around dinner tables long before it hit the national media.

Over the last few days there has been a ghoulish death watch here, with radio announcers saying, “It has been four days….It has been five days….It has been six days since Terri Schiavo had any nutrition or water, and she still clings to life.”

I hear that police are stationed at her bedside to make sure that her parents don’t wet her cracked lips with a washcloth or put an ice chip in her mouth. The judge who ordered her death will not permit a gun to be used to hasten her death, but he will also not permit her death to be delayed by even the few seconds that a drop of water might provide.

He tells himself that he is not killing her, that this is not assisted suicide, that he is only allowing nature to take its course. If Terri is not, in fact, meant to die, she will get up and get herself a glass of water.

The Orwellian language we hear, the things they say in the papers, where to begin? There is so much material here for a satirist, but my sense of humor is blunted by my outrage at the legal juggernaut that is murdering a woman on prime time while the world watches. The slow death of Terri Schiavo is like the ultimate snuff film, a horror show unfolding in real time.

Read Frank Rich in today’s New York Times for the full flavor of modern liberalism. Look at the Orwellian language.

Orwellian: “Congress and the president scurried to play God in the lives of Terri Schiavo and her family last weekend.” Clearly, Terri’s parents should not be playing God. Jeb Bush and George Bush and Congress should not be playing God. The new definition of playing G-d: feeding a helpless person. Not playing G-d: letting G-d feed her Himself if He wants to.

Orwellian: “The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo’s)…” That’s Frank Rich, again. Follow the bouncing ball carefully, this is really convoluted: Republicans only claim to believe in the sanctity of marriage, but they are really hypocritical. Their hypocrisy is shown by the fact that they will readily interfere in the most intimate decisions between a husband and wife. What is the most intimate decision in a marriage? The husband’s choice to end his wife’s life. This shows how dastardly the Republicans are! I mean, if they won’t let a husband kill his wife, where will it all end?!

Orwellian: Frank Rich again: “I tried to picture how I would have reacted if a bunch of smarmy, camera-seeking politicians came anywhere near a hospital room where my own relative was hooked up to life support. ” “LIFE SUPPORT”? Terri is not on life support. She is breathing on her own and needs no medical attention at all. If she were mentally normal but had lost her esophagus to cancer and needed a feeding tube to survive, no one would say she was on “life support.”

Orwellian: “smarmy, camera-seeking politicians.” Only Republicans play politics. Only Republicans are smarmy. Democrats act from pure principle, no political calculation at all. This needs no comment.

Orwellian: “brain dead.” Terri is not brain dead. Her EKG does not show a flat line. Her heart beats, she breathes, all her organs function. Of course, this is only true as I write: by the time you read this, she may well be dead, thanks to her husband and Judge George Greer.

Orwellian: “right to die.” She has a right to die, they tell us. Florida law gives Terri a right to die. The Republicans have no right to interfere with her right to die. She wants to die, why can’t her parents and those “smarmy” politicians let her go already?

This one is so outrageous, I find myself hyperventilating just thinking about it. Let’s call a spade a spade. The “right to die” is Newspeak for the “right to kill.”

No one really knows what Terri wants, or would have wanted. We have only the word of the husband who wants her dead. The judge who sentenced her to death believes her husband because, he has said, “I would not want to live that way.” News flash: no one would want to live that way! Does that mean that death is the only reasonable option!?

In the Netherlands, the “right to die” is enshrined in law, thus: if a relative or doctor of a patient signs that So-and-so “would not want to live this way” the patient is euthanized, but it is not called euthanasia. It is called “the right to die” and “death with dignity.” Imagine if Dr. Kevorkian’s work were considered not criminal — but noble. And imagine if the people he “helped” did not have to say they wanted his help — if he could just go ahead and help them anyway. It’s so bad there that old people are afraid to go to the hospital.

Not all liberal talk is Orwellian. Some of it is McCarthyist. Listen to this — more from the poison pen of the inestimable Frank Rich: “While sometimes God racketeers are guilty of the relatively minor sin of bad taste…sometimes we get the demagoguery of Father Coughlin or the big-time cons of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.”

Got that? People who want to save Terri’s life are like Father Coughlin — the famous radio anti-Semite of the ’30’s. The thing that pro-lifers and Father Coughlin have in common is — drum roll, please! — religious faith! Which everyone knows is horribly dangerous for civilization.

When Congress tried desperately to find a way to save Terri’s life, it was not “an innocuous encroachment of religion into public life,” Frank Rich tells us, but “a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend.”

Understand? Religion = jihad. A person who is motivated by religious belief to save a life = a person who is motivated by religious belief to fly an airplane into the World Trade Center.

And don’t think for one minute that this ugly liberal equation applies only to Christians and Moslems. Ask not for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for us. Liberals consider all religious belief to be totally illegitimate in the public square — most emphatically including Orthodox Judaism.

Let me ask you this. Does Terri Schiavo have a soul? Is she a human being — even if she is not conscious? Religious believers think that she does have a soul, and that even the most helpless human being is still a human being. Liberals think that helpless, unconscious people do not have souls, are not human, and deserve to live only if their guardians want them.

Let me amend that. Some liberals are religious believers, and do privately believe that humans have souls — but at the same time, they also think that the concept of “a human soul” is unconstitutional and has no place in public policy.

While Terri Schiavo is dying, G-d is in Heaven, judging.

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62 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    With all due respect to those who tried to discover, or think they did discover, or maybe even invented Terri Schiavo’s wishes or physical condition—we need to think about the basic issue in a halachic context; G-d’s will and knowledge expressed through Torah override the subjective will and knowledge of any created being. I’d hate to see the secular-utilitarian approach to life continue to sneak up on believing Jews. Many of us have already absorbed far too many attitudes from our environment, to the point that we are unaware that we have done so.

  2. Avi Burstein says:

    So why doesnt the husband allow a quick and painless EEG & MRI to prove you are right?

    There’s a good reason she hasn’t been given an MRI. In the early years of her condition, an experimental treatment was done on her that implanted electrodes in her brain in order to stimulate neuronal growth. Those implants are still in her skull. An MRI uses powerful magnets to create it’s image and would cause the implanted electrodes to act as a blender inside her skull. Not a good idea.

  3. DovBear says:

    Dilbert, don’t confuse the poor republicans with complexity… if it’s not black or white, off or on, true or false, their brows get all furrowed.

  4. dilbert says:

    Michael- I am not going to identify my specific speciality, but I can honestly tell you I have dealt with this type of situation more than 99% of the doctors that you will meet. Of course an order from a doctor is need for morphine. And I certainly did say that the nurses may have some doubts about whether Ms. Shciavo is conscious. And, that the doctors probably did not have doubt. I am not here to insult nurses, who have one of the most thankless, and in some cases poorly paying jobs. However, they are usually not trained neurological observers, especially in a hospice. There is a possibility/liklihood that they may interpret some reflexes as being purposeful behavior, and some random movements as thinking responses to stimulus. I am not saying they are always wrong, but the vast majority(actually a lot of doctors who are not specialists make the same mistakes) are not trained to make these sorts of distinctions. Therefore, if a nurse raises a question about consciousness(and it has already been settled to some degree by a specialist) the path of least resistance is to order pain medication, rather than argue with the nurse about whether the patient is conscious or not, seeing as a small amount of pain medication likely will not have significant side effects. Also, my guess is that the neurologists came and consulted, and left, and the day to day managament is left to an internal medicine specialist, or hospice doctor, who also could make a mistake in diagnosing consciousness. Therefore, a patient getting morphine is not ipso facto conscious, there are a lot of factors that go into it.

    You could put someone in front of all the commentors here, and ask if the person was conscioius, and get all sorts of opinions. Only someone who takes the time and effort to examine(sometimes multiple times are neccessary) and has a good idea of what is reflex and what is conscious movement, can give a good answer. People can get “feelings” about who is conscious or not, but that is just a gut feeling, and not very scientific, and not very provable.

  5. Michael says:

    OK, so Dr. Dilbert says that the EEG isn’t flat, after all, and DovBear declares victory. Fantasy meets reality?

    Dr. Dilbert, what’s your area of specialization? I asked a physician today and he contradicted this Dr. Nelson, if he meant to say that a Doctor would not need to sign off on the administration of morphine. Morphine is an addictive, controlled substance. It is illegal to administer it without prescription. In these settings it is common to sign a prescription on an as-needed basis, but they have to sign off.

    Furthermore, you said that the state of the person is determined by observation, and then said the nurses might have doubted. I will agree with you that a doctor knows far better what he’s looking for than a nurse, but he still had to sign off on the prescription, and the administration still means the nurses had doubt.

    Dov, address that. Don’t say doctor this or doctor that. Tell us that you believe that the nurses cared for this woman 24/7 and had the strange misconception that she feels pain, but they were totally wrong, because that’s what you are saying. You just refuse to put it in so many words.

  6. DovBear says:

    Thanks Dr. Dilbert for explaining things to these non doctors, especially the bit about it being common for nurses to give pain meds to non-concious people.

  7. dilbert says:

    by the way, I would guess that Terry Schiavo’s EEG is not flat, but it doesn’t matter. If it is flat, it shows that there is not enough electrical activity in her brain for the monitors to pick up. It indicates so little electrical function that it is essentially not viable. Given how she looks on the few pictures I have seen, my guess is her EEG is very abnormal, but not flat. btw, A flat EEG is consistant with BRAIN DEATH, and at the very least, would indicate that she could not possibly be conscious at the time the EEG was done. Her brain scans probably would not change much after the first year or two after the injury. Getting more scans wont add any information. It’s not like the brain can show improvment on scans over time. It doesn’t

  8. dilbert says:

    pain is the FEELING that a conscious person has when presented with a noxious stimulus. You have to be conscious to feel pain. Otherwise, the stimulus is just a stimulus. And you can have a REFLEX response to a stimulus, that does not indicate consciousness or feeling pain. It is COMMON for nursing staff to give pain medications to those who are not conscious, “just to be on the safe side.” Does this imply doubt about her being conscious? on the side of the nurses- maybe. On the side of the doctors? probably not.

    The CT scan posted by the radiologist shows a tremendous amount of loss of brain substance, and the spinal fluid spaces have enlarged to fill the space left by the shrunken brain. The person posting the picture is clearly not a neuroradiologist(someone specially trained to read head CT ‘s and neurologically related studies). This is not a scan of a normal person, not even a 93 year old normal person. It is a scan of a person who has suffered a PROFOUND loss of brain substance. It is consistant with(but not diagnostic of) persistant vegetative state. I have posted some information about brain injury on my site, for those interested.

  9. Sholom Simon says:

    “In addition, the EEG is not flat. At least not according to Dr. William Hammesfahr”. Dr. William Hammesfahr was the only one of eight doctors who felt that way, and this is not in his field. The other seven all testified the other way. That is why the court rejected his testimony.

    “So why doesnt the husband allow a quick and painless EEG & MRI to prove you are right?”. She’s already had EEG’s, and she’s had two CAT scans.

  10. DovBear says:

    EdV huh? Who said Terry should be allowed to die b/ of CP cases? I said that people who support capital punishment shouldn’t be whining about Judge Greer or how he conducted the trial, unless they also object when other judges happily send people to death on worse evidence. It wasn’t an argument about TS. It was an argument against the hypocricy of pro-death-peanlty people.

    Michoel: You can’t run away from the fact that an expert doctor said “�It�s not uncommon for the nurse to suggest, �Let�s just give her a suppository to be on the safe side.��

    And you can’t run away from the fact that three judges heard compelling evidence that she feels no pain and has no chance for survivial.

    You’re trying to, but you can’t. People who know more than either of us about the facts of this case have spoken, and they disagree with you.

  11. edvallace says:

    “If youre willing to err on the side of life for Terry Schavio (which is commendable) why not err on the side of life for people who MIGHT be innocent, who MIGHT have been convicted on bad evidence? Why do you presume that evry convicted criminal is in fact guilty? Why not err on ther side of THEIR lives, too?”

    Actually, I would be willing to consider that suggestion. Although you accused Zev of being a GOP-jew who undoubtedly supports capital punishment [something you can’t know] I personally do not. I agree that the judicial system is highly flawed and I’d be willing to dispense of capital punishment today.
    Your comparison stil holds no water. Why should Terry be allowed to die because of flimsy evidence in CP cases?

  12. Michael says:

    From the snide to the silly. The Times produced one doctor who said nurses do it on their own.

    Did he say that nurses do it on their own when they are absolutely certain that she is brain dead and feel no pain? Did he actually say that doctors don’t sign off, and nurses just wander off with controlled substances and claim they gave them to patients?

    No, he didn’t say that. He didn’t say that because if they were absolutely certain that she was brain dead, they would have no reason to give her morphine.

    The Times is trying to explain away the evidence. But the evidence is still standing there, making a stench.

    Make up all the excuses you want. The fact is that nurses aren’t stupid. They don’t give dead people medicine. And they don’t give brain-dead people pain medication for pain they can’t feel.