[Marxism] Fwd from Ravi Maholtra: final comment on Schiavo

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 31 07:42:46 MST 2005

>I am getting exhausted on this issue so I leave you (various people from 
>Lou's list with
>whom I have emailed before) with this final article from the Harvard 
>Crimson Newspaper.
>If anything, I think it contributes something new by distinguishing end of 
>life from
>beginning of life issues (where the left has stupidly conflated children 
>with fetuses for
>no valid reason). It seems to me that one can make a cogent case that 
>Schiavo was the
>author of her own misfortune in the sense that she had years to make a 
>living will but
>never did so. But babies/children who have disabilities obviously never 
>had that choice
>and in *that* situation, it seems highly dubious to allow either parents 
>or physicians to
>choose to kill in any circumstance since there is no consent and 
>evaluation of outcomes
>for babies with disabilities (as this case shows) tend to be extremely 
>Because I have a slight sectarian side I will note that I find this 
>article has a more
>powerful impact on mainstream audiences than far left ones simply because 
>of anti-Harvard
>bigotry! Please put that aside. We all know you all could have gone to 
>Harvard or become
>profs if you didn't spend your time when you were younger selling papers.
>Feel free to post it.
>FOCUS: Bigotry and the Murder of Terri Schiavo
>“Misery can only be removed from the world by painless extermination of 
>the miserable.”
>—a Nazi writer quoted by Robert J. Lifton in The Nazi Doctors: Medical 
>Killing and the
>Psychology of Genocide
>The case of Terri Schiavo has been framed by the media as the battle 
>between the “right
>to die” and pro-life groups, with the latter often referred to as “right-wing
>Christians.” Little attention has been paid to the more than twenty major 
>rights organizations firmly supporting Schiavo’s right to nutrition and 
>hydration. Terri
>Schindler-Schiavo, a severely disabled woman, is being starved and 
>dehydrated to death in
>the name of supposed “dignity.” Polls show that most Americans believe 
>that her death is
>a private matter and that her removal from a feeding tube—a low-tech, 
>simple and
>inexpensive device used to feed many sick and disabled people—is a 
>reasonable solution to
>the conflict between her husband and her parents over her right to life.
>The reason for this public support of removal from ordinary sustenance, I 
>believe, is not
>that most people understand or care about Terri Schiavo. Like many others 
>disabilities, I believe that the American public, to one degree or 
>another, holds that
>disabled people are better off dead. To put it in a simpler way, many 
>Americans are
>bigots. A close examination of the facts of the Schiavo case reveals not a 
>case of
>difficult decisions but a basic test of this country’s decency.
>Our country has learned that we cannot judge people on the basis of 
>minority status, but
>for some reason we have not erased our prejudice against disability. One 
>insidious form
>of this bias is to distinguish cognitively disabled persons from persons 
>disabilities are “just” physical. Cognitively disabled people are shown a 
>manifest lack
>of respect in daily life, as well. This has gotten so perturbing to me 
>that when I fly, I
>try to wear my Harvard t-shirt so I can “pass” as a person without 
>cognitive disability.
>(I have severe cerebral palsy, the result of being deprived of oxygen at 
>birth. While
>some people with cerebral palsy do have cognitive disability, my 
>articulation difference
>and atypical muscle tone are automatically associated with cognitive 
>disability in the
>minds of some people.)
>The result of this disrespect is the devaluation of lives of people like 
>Terri Schiavo.
>In the Schiavo case and others like it, non-disabled decision makers 
>assert that the
>disabled person should die because he or she—ordinarily a person who had 
>little or no
>experience with disability before acquiring one—“would not want to live 
>like this.” In
>the Schiavo case, the family is forced to argue that Terri should be kept 
>alive because
>she might “get better”—that is, might be able to regain or to communicate 
>her cognitive
>processes. The mere assertion that disability (particularly cognitive 
>sometimes called “mental retardation”) is present seems to provide ample 
>proof that death
>is desirable.
>Essentially, then, we have arrived at the point where we starve people to 
>death because
>he or she cannot communicate their experiences to us. What is this but 
>sheer egotism?
>Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this is obviously an attempt to 
>play God.
>Not Dead Yet, an organization of persons with disabilities who oppose 
>assisted suicide
>and euthanasia, maintains that the starvation and dehydration of Terri 
>Schiavo will put
>the lives of thousands of severely disabled children and adults at risk. (The
>organization takes its name from the scene in Monty Python and the Holy 
>Grail in which a
>plague victim not dying fast enough is hit over the head and carted away 
>after repeatedly
>insisting he is not dead yet.) Not Dead Yet exposes important biases in 
>the “right to
>die” movement, including the fact that as early as 1988, Jack Kevorkian 
>advertised his
>intention of performing medical experimentation (“hitherto conducted on 
>rats”) on living
>children with spina bifida, at the same time harvesting their organs for 
>Besides being disabled, Schiavo and I have something important in common, 
>that is,
>someone attempted to terminate my life by removing my endotracheal tube 
>resuscitation in my first hour of life. This was a quality-of-life 
>decision: I was simply
>taking too long to breathe on my own, and the person who pulled the tube 
>believed I would
>be severely disabled if I lived, since lack of oxygen causes cerebral 
>palsy. (I was saved
>by my family doctor inserting another tube as quickly as possible.) The 
>point of this is
>not that I ended up at Harvard and Schiavo did not, as some people would 
>conclude. The point is that society already believes to some degree that 
>it is acceptable
>to murder disabled people.
>As Schiavo starves to death, we are entering a world last encountered in 
>Nazi Europe.
>Prior to the genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and Poles, the Nazis engaged in 
>the mass murder
>of disabled children and adults, many of whom were taken from their 
>families under the
>guise of receiving treatment for their disabling conditions. The Nazis 
>believed that
>killing was the highest form of treatment for disability.
>As the opening quote suggests, Nazi doctors believed, or claimed to 
>believe, they were
>performing humanitarian acts. Doctors were trained to believe that curing 
>required the elimination of individual patients. This sick twisting of 
>medical ethics led
>to a sense of fulfillment of duty experienced by Nazi doctors, leading 
>them to a
>conviction that they were relieving suffering. Not Dead Yet has uncovered 
>the same
>perverse sense of duty in members of the Hemlock Society, now called 
>End-of-Life Choices.
>(In 1997, the executive director of the Hemlock Society suggested that 
>judicial review be
>used regularly “when it is necessary to hasten the death of an individual 
>whether it be a
>demented parent, a suffering, severely disabled spouse or a child.” This 
>illustrates that
>the “right to die” movement favors the imposition of death sentences on 
>disabled people
>by means of the judicial branch.)
>For an overview of what “end-of-life choices” mean for Schiavo, I refer 
>you to the Exit
>Protocol prepared for her in 2003 by her health care providers (available 
>online at
>http://www.cst-phl.com/050113/sixth.html). In the midst of her starvation, 
>Terri will
>most likely be treated for “pain or discomfort” and nausea which may arise 
>as the result
>of the supposedly humane process of bringing about her death. (Remember 
>that Schiavo is
>not terminally ill.) She may be given morphine for respiratory distress 
>and may
>experience seizures. This protocol confirms what we have learned from 
>famines and death
>camps: death by starvation is a horrible death.
>This apparently is what it means to have “rights” as a disabled person in 
>America today.
>Joe Ford ’06 is a government concentrator in Currier House.

Louis Proyect
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