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

Richard Fidler rfidler at cyberus.ca
Thu Mar 31 08:29:23 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 dubious.

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 disability 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 with 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 whose 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 

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 disability, sometimes called "mental 
retardation") is present seems to provide ample proof that death is 

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 reuse.

Besides being disabled, Schiavo and I have something important in 
common, that is, someone attempted to terminate my life by removing my 
endotracheal tube during 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 undoubtedly 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 society 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 Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

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