[Marxism] Terri Schiavo: the right to live, to die, or to kill?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 20 09:52:27 MST 2005

>    According to what I could see from the TV footage, I say that Terri
>Schiavo is alive, she is reacting to people approaching her,
>communicating in her very limited way, smiling sometimes.
>    So I don't think that this is about Terri Schiavo's right to chose
>her death, but about killing her by starvation and dehydration.
>    What do other comrades think of this?
>Lüko Willms

Schiavo specifically told her husband before the accident that if she was 
ever brain dead that she'd want to be taken off life support.

The rightwing has galvanized around this cause. Last night on NBC evening 
news, they showed protestors outside her hospital getting arrested. They 
identified one as "Ex-Green Beret Bo Gritz". Typical of NBC to omit the 
relevant data on Gritz, namely that his a long time ultraright activist who 
was a VP candidate for the Populist Party when it ran Ku Klux Klan leader 
David Duke for President.

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
November 10, 2003 Monday 0 South Pinellas Edition
Schiavo tapes: snippets, then not much


She seems to smile at her mother's voice. Her eyes follow a shiny balloon. 
Asked to open her eyes, she arches her eyebrows as far as they will go.

These and other fleeting images posted on the Internet have turned the 
heart-wrenching case of Terri Schiavo into a constitutional showdown.

But such moments that suggest awareness - culled from four hours of medical 
examinations that were videotaped in the summer of 2002 - are rare compared 
to the times when Schiavo lies in bed, slack-jawed and seemingly 
unresponsive, her limbs stiff, her eyes vacant, her hands curled in tight 

The St. Petersburg Times reviewed all four hours of tapes, which now are 
public record in the Pinellas County Courthouse. Over and over, Robert and 
Mary Schindler beg their daughter to demonstrate any sign of consciousness. 
They have contended for more than a decade that she smiles and laughs in 
direct response to their conversation. They have told the court that her 
eyes follow them around the room.

These tests, these videos, offered a chance to show the judge firsthand.

"It's Mommy. Look this way," Mrs. Schindler urges at one point. "Can you 
say, "No, no, no' like you did before? No, no, no?"

"Terri, Terri, Terri. Can you look over here, sweetheart?"

Here and there, their daughter's glances and moans seem to coincide with 
what's being asked of her and might lead one to conclude that she responds. 
But more often than not, the parents' entreaties fall flat.

A judge who viewed all four hours concluded that Terri Schiavo exists in a 
hopeless vegetative state and ordered that her feeding tube be removed, as 
her husband requested. Appellate judges, who also saw all four hours, agreed.

Still, there's no denying the haunting power of a few, select moments. They 
seem to suggest that Schiavo - brain-damaged as she is - retains some shred 
of awareness and will. They are so disconcerting the Florida Legislature 
took one look at the snippets, overturned those judicial rulings and 
empowered the governor to put Schiavo back on the feeding tube.

Yes, the mother's words do seem to prompt what seems like a smile from 
Terri. Not just once, but twice. Her eyes do follow a balloon on three 
separate occasions, surprising even a doctor selected by her husband, 
Michael Schiavo.

But mostly, the Schindlers conduct one-sided conversations with Terri. They 
speak of family vacations, barbecues and newborn relatives. They profess to 
spot nuances in their daughter's face that aren't readily apparent to an 
outsider's eye.

At one point her father gets gruff while trying unsuccessfully to get her 
to follow a Disney-character balloon. "Come here, Terri, no more fooling 
around. No more fooling around with your Dad."

He pokes her in the forehead to make sure she's awake. "No more fooling 
around with your Dad. Listen to me. You see the balloon? You see Mickey?"

Later, he apologizes, telling her others have admonished him for his tone. 
"I'm not going to lecture you anymore. I was scolded. No more lectures. You 
do as you please."

Neither the father's gruff admonition nor his soothing apology seem to 
elicit any reaction from his daughter.

These ministrations are painfully poignant, right down to the music from a 
portable radio/cassette player.

 From the movie Titanic: "Near, far, wherever you are. my heart will go on 
and on."

 From James Bond: "Live and let die. Live and let die."

Medical uncertainties

Theresa Maria Schiavo's brain suffered terrible trauma 13 years ago, when 
her potassium levels dropped so low her heart stopped beating.

For a few years, her family and husband, Michael, worked toward recovery. 
Then, he changed his mind. It was hopeless, he contended. She would not 
have wanted to live like this.

Years of litigation culminated with testimony last November by the five 
doctors who did the videotaped exams - two picked by the Schindlers, two by 
Michael Schiavo and one by Circuit Judge George Greer, who oversees the case.

The two Schindler doctors said Terri Schiavo, now 39, shows awareness and 
might be helped by treatment. The other three doctors said she lives in a 
persistent vegetative state, with no hope of recovery. Greer and an 
appellate court agreed that her feeding tube should be removed. In October, 
the tube came out; Terri was expected to die within a few weeks.

Then, the Schindlers posted six segments of the videotaped exams, totaling 
4 minutes and 20 seconds, at http://www.terrisfight.org . The clips were 
seen by thousands of people, including members of Florida's Legislature. 
With two days of debate, the Legislature passed "Terri's Law" and Gov. Jeb 
Bush ordered her feeding tube reinserted. She had lived six days without 

"I said, wait a minute, that's not my definition of somebody in a comatose 
situation," said Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-Kissimmee, after viewing the Web 

Such lay references to "comas" demonstrate the vexing nature of determining 
vegetative states. Comatose people's eyes are closed, but if their thinking 
functions remain, those people can be better off than people in true 
vegetative states.

Vegetative people may seem alert if their involuntary functions remain 
intact. They may blink, sleep, wake up, make sounds and flinch. They even 
may laugh, shed tears and utter random words. But the brain sections that 
control thought are gone. Most doctors agree that such patients have little 
or no awareness of self and surroundings, and will never improve.

Patricia Anderson, lawyer for the Schindlers, noted in court that doctors 
sometimes err. Some people tagged with the vegetative label later come out 
of it, including one patient who emerged after 22 months. His doctor? 
Minnesota neurologist Ronald Cranford, who testified that Terri Schiavo is 
a hopeless case.

Cranford acknowledged that misdiagnosis, saying he lacked the benefit of a 
brain CAT scan. Schiavo has undergone multiple scans, he said, and they 
show a decimated cerebral cortex, the thin brain coating that controls 
higher functions.

Radiologist William Maxfield, chosen by the Schindlers, testified that 
Schiavo's cerebral scans show improvement, but none of the other doctors 
supported him.

The Schindlers couldn't make their case with scans, or blood tests, or 
X-rays. They needed their daughter to perform. Her life depended on the 
doctors' exams and what four hours of video - taken as a whole - really show.

What about that balloon?

"Hi. It's Mommy. Hi baby, how are you?"

Mary Schindler enters the hospice room and breaks the silence that 
surrounds her daughter. She kisses Terri, strokes her face and fluffs her 
pillow. Terri's face seems to brighten. Her blinking slows. She seems to 
stare at her mother. Her mouth opens, as if smiling.

Is this the "pure love" of a disabled soul, as Anderson contends? Has that 
familiar voice and tender breath on cheek pierced through Schiavo's shroud?

Probably so, the two Schindler doctors testified.

No way, said the two doctors picked by Michael Schiavo and the doctor 
picked by the judge.

"This is a reflex response," testified University of Florida neurologist 
Melvin Greer, not related to the judge. "The muscles of the facial area 
will react to sensory and auditory stimulation."

In court, the doubters contended that Dr. Cranford elicited a similar 
reaction when he touched and talked to Schiavo much like her mother had.

The videotape seems less conclusive. Schiavo makes a smile-like expression 
with Cranford, but it is less pronounced than the two incidents with her 

In another scene, not posted on the Web, Robert Schindler reminds his 
daughter of her "lazy eye" syndrome and how, when she was a girl, she would 
annoy her mother by purposely lolling her eye around.

Schiavo makes a sound a lay person might interpret as a laugh. Her noises 
get louder and louder until they exceed any other sound she makes during 
all four hours.

"You sound like an air raid siren," her father says. "Are you trying to 
tell me something?"

She also seems to laugh, after a 45-second delay, when her mother plays 
loud piano music next to her ear. On another occasion, she seems to laugh 
at no apparent stimulus.

"What you see," said lawyer Anderson, "is a human spirit very nearly 
crushed by the most unimaginable circumstances saying, "Here I am. Here I 
am. I like that balloon. I love my mother. I like piano music.' "

George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, scoffed at the notion that a 
father's reminiscing prompted conscious laughter.

"If Terri has the ability to comprehend language and supposedly laugh and 
respond to the context of what she heard, then why doesn't Terri laugh when 
you say, "Terri, please laugh.' If she has the ability to comprehend 
language, why can't she follow a simple command" like blinking her eyes.

What about that balloon? The tapes indicate that her eyes followed it three 
times and failed to follow it twice. Cleveland neurologist Peter 
Bambakidis, appointed by the court to examine Terri, said the retina 
connects with regions of the brain that control involuntary reflexes. Her 
eyes follow things, he said, but she has no awareness of what she is seeing.

The single most dramatic moment occurred when William Hammesfahr, a 
Clearwater neurologist picked by the Schindlers, asked Schiavo to open her 

At first, her eyelids barely flutter. She slowly turns her head toward 
Hammesfahr, gradually opening her eyes. Then her eyebrows lift into an 
exaggerated arch - the kind of face a cartoonist might draw to show 

A lay person could easily conclude that she somehow tapped into a latent 
reservoir of cognition, even if just for a second. Hammesfahr and her 
parents bubble with excitement.

"Good job!" the doctor exults. "Good job, young lady!"

But she never pulls it off again, or anything remotely like it. For nearly 
an hour, her parents and the doctor tell her to open her eyes, close her 
eyes, look this way, look that way - with little apparent response.

Judge Greer counted.

"By the court's count, (Hammesfahr) gave 105 commands to Terri Schiavo and, 
at his direction, Mrs. Schindler gave an additional six commands," Greer 
wrote. "He asked her 61 questions and Mrs. Schindler asked her an 
additional 11 questions. The court saw few actions that could be considered 
responsive to either those commands or those questions."

Louis Proyect
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