Sunday, March 20, 2005
When everyone's on the jury.
Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy (an occasional UU World contributor) takes a look at the Terri Schiavo case and common-sensically concludes that Michael Schiavo is telling the truth about his wife's wishes — but also that video clips of her are "absolutely convincing that she is semi-aware, semi-responsive, and able to understand people in some dim way." Therefore, he wonders, why hasn't a judge in her case simply gone down to her bedside and asked her about her wishes? Couldn't she just blink or grimace a response?
The key to the 4 minutes and 20 seconds of video is that Schiavo seems to be responding in a meaningful way to specific stimuli. All 17 experts who reference the videos take for granted that they demonstrate meaningful emotional or communicative responses. Could they really all be wrong?
Oh, yes. All you need to know to illuminate the question is that the six snippets of video were selected from 4 1/2 hours of tape. As do most people with PVS, Schiavo emits random behaviors and noises. If a person gives enough commands or makes enough interaction attempts over the course of several hours, by sheer coincidence some of Schiavo's random behaviors will appear to coincide with their commands. Both the trial court and the appeals court viewed the entire 4 1/2 hour tape, and both concluded that her responses were indeed random.
The issue that all 17 experts skirt, Rivka explains, is that "Terri Schiavo's cerebral cortex is not damaged, it is absent." She concludes:
Terri Schiavo's case is tragic, but not medically complicated. Nothing about it suggests any room for diversity of medical or neuropsychological opinion. The "experts" who submitted affidavits appear to know little about her case beyond what they were able to glean from cherry-picked videotape segments only a few minutes in length. They recommend sophisticated neuroimaging techniques which are not relevant to the question of the feasibility of rehabilitation when the cerebral cortex is gone.
Schiavo's story is complex and tragic and clearly an ongoing nightmare for everyone in her family — imagine spending a decade in court arguing about whether your child or spouse would want to persist in a condition from which she can never recover — but a piece of the tragedy is that we have all become a sort of ad hoc jury, everyone offering an opinion about a tiny piece of the evidence. Happily, I don't have to decide in Schiavo's case, but the political and ethical issues her case has brought to a boil do need to be decided. One essay I've found provocative and helpful is Garret Keizer's February 2005 Harper's essay, "Life Everlasting: The Religious Right and the Right to Die."
Update 3.23.05: Another must-read Unitarian Universalist commentary on the Schiavo case comes from Doug Muder at Pericles: "Affirming Life: A Personal Story."
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 20 March 2005 at 8:59 AM