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Home > Focus > Terri Schiavo: Innovation, Decision Making and the Future of Ethics

Terri Schiavo: Innovation, Decision Making and the Future of Ethics

by Redazione FGB [1], 2 April 2005

Across the Atlantic, people are shocked to watch in real time the 'phasing out' of Terri Schiavo, which has been declared as living in a 'vegetative state' as a result of a sudden loss of oxigen to her brain approximately 15 years ago.

Her husband, which has been her tutor over all this time, has now decided to complete her will and unplug Terri to end her suffering, or so the argument goes. The family, on the ohter hand, which has no legal tutoring rights, has been battling for her to continue to live, but had to resing after a federal court ruling to let Terri die of starvation.

'News of her death prompted wailing and praying from supporters of her parents, who wanted to keep her alive, as both the US president, George Bush, and the Vatican expressed their concern at the circumstances of Ms Schiavo's death.' The Guardian [2]

"The life and death of Terri Schiavo -- intensely public, highly polarizing and played out around the clock on the Internet and television -- has become a touchstone in American culture [...] Rarely have the forces of politics, religion and medicine collided so spectacularly, and with such potential for lasting effect". The New York Times [3]

"Mr Bush repeated his criticism of the legal verdicts yesterday, saying "the presumption should be in favour of life". The essence of civilisation was that "the strong had a duty to protect the weak", he told reporters. But a CBS poll last week found that more than 80 per cent of people believed Congress was wrong to intervene, suggesting that Americans' traditional distrust of government interference outweighed the country's growing social conservatism. Critics accused Republicans of exploiting the case, pointing to a memo reportedly circulated among the party's senators that said fighting to save Ms Schiavo was a "great political issue". The Financial Times [4]

The issues raised by this case are complex in nature. First, despite the recently claimed great advances in medical technology, we find a very human feeling of impotence over the healing by treatment of a suffering living being. Second, the very same defintion of what is 'living' is appalling and uncomprehensible and yet we produce boundaries between what we consider as 'lving' as 'vegetative' and as 'to sentence of death'. Third, and perhaps most controversial, is the right to decide over issues of life and death in circumstances like this. Who is responsible for these decisions?

Crucially, human progress and innovation policy in this area of activity depend on the due process that crucial decisions such as those involved in this case will delineate for future appeals. I believe that eminet scholars and bioethicists might have a word of comment about the recent developments of the Terri Schiavo's case and therfore I would like to provoke them to an answer about these matters, by asking:

- who should be responsible to decide on these issues?
- what are the other issues that are relevant for the impact that this case will have on other areas of medicine and ethics?
- why not create a mixed commission formed by scientists, bio-ethicists, lawyers and representatives of civil society to debate about such issue?

'The web is creaking with blogs on the case, thrust back into the national spotlight this weekend as Congress and the president intervened to assist Schiavo's parents in their bid to restore her feeding tube.

The place to start is Terri's Fight [5], a site set up by Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to tell their side of the story and lobby to keep their daughter alive. The site includes video footage of Schiavo with her mother, often cited on other blogs as proof that she is not in a persistent vegatative state as the courts have found.

Blogs for Terri has harnessed the power of 150 bloggers [6]to assist Schiavo's parents in their campaign. The site is currently attempting to find $10,000 (ï½£5,260) to place an ad in Florida's St Petersburg Times to put their side of the story without interference from reporters and editors.

Schiavo's husband, Michael, has been accused of everything from complicity in her original illness 15 years ago, to wanting her dead so he can keep the money. However, Michael himself has claimed repeatedly [7]that his wife would not want to live this way, and that he is fighting to respect her wishes.

Dean's world offers a keep-Terri-alive view [8]without the usual demonisation of her husband. Discussion on his blog is dominated by those who believe the government is trampling over separation of powers in pursuit of political point-scoring.

Daily Kos points out that as George Bush was rushing to intervene [9]in the Schiavo case, arguing for her right to life, a baby in Texas died [10]after doctors removed life support against the parent's wishes - using a law Bush himself signed in 1999.

Whatever you do, please do not direct your opinions, supportive or otherwise, to The Unruly Servant [11], a blog run by an entirely different Michael Schiavo. "I've gotten more than my share of emails telling me not to take my wife off life support, that it's not what Jesus would do", the alternative Schiavo writes. Frankly it's kind of freaking him out.' Posted by Sarah Left [12]

See also the President's Council on Bioethics [13] and Vittorio Bertolini's [14] 'Transumani e postumani' in this web-site.

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Redazione FGB
  2. 2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1449894,00.html
  3. 3] http://nytimes.com/2005/04/01/politics/01legacy.html?hp&ex=1112331600&en=adcbe9c9ca0b6bd2&ei=5094&partner=homepage
  4. 4] http://news.ft.com/cms/s/e2df8bf6-a24c-11d9-8483-00000e2511c8.html
  5. 5] http://www.terrisfight.org/
  6. 6] http://www.blogsforterri.com/
  7. 7] http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/10/28/schiavo.lkl/
  8. 8] http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1108397037.shtml
  9. 9] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/20/23916/5653
  10. 10] http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/3087387
  11. 11] http://michaelschiavo.blogspot.com/
  12. 12] http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/news/archives/world_news/2005/03/21/the_righttodie_debate.html
  13. 13] http://www.bioethics.gov/transcripts/march05/session4.html
  14. 14] /it/rassegna/2005/04/transumani_e_postumani.html
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