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

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 31 22:05:05 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 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 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 disability, 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 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

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: 

More information about the Marxism mailing list