The Bronx Blogger

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Terri Schiavo Gets Due Processed to Death by Junk Justice

Ms. Terri Schiavo is a severely brain-damaged woman who had her feeding tube removed this past Friday by order of the Florida state court system.

Anyone who feels like they would like to know more about this woman's story should check out the website Abstract Appeal. The law blogger Matt Conigliaro runs Abstract Appeal and has written many posts about the trials of Ms. Schiavo. He has a special page devoted to the history of her litigation, including a thorough timeline, with links to various documents, of critical events in her life.

One link in particular gives a very good summary of the facts, issues, and laws that have pushed Ms. Schiavo's case along. It's the link to the report of Jay Wolfson, who was appointed Guardian Ad Litem for Ms. Schiavo by the Chief Judge of the Florida 6th Judicial Circuit in October 2003. The report is 38 pages long, but it's double-spaced and written in a very readable style. It is probably the best single source for understanding what took place with Ms. Schiavo up until November 2003.

Here's an excerpt from pages 29 to 30 of Mr. Wolfson's report:

A particularly disarming aspect of persons diagnosed with persistent vegetative state is that they have waking and sleeping cycles. When awake, their eyes are often open, they make noises, they appear to track movement, they respond to deep pain, and appear startled by loud noises.

Further, because ... those brai
n-related functions [which are controlled by the autonomic nervous system] are not affected, they can often breathe (without a respirator) and swallow (saliva). But there is no purposeful, reproducible, interactive, awareness.

There is some controversy within the scientific medical literature regarding the characterization and diagnosis of persons in a persistent vegetative state. Highly competent, scientifically based physicians using recognized measures and standards have deduced, within a high degree of medical certainty, that Theresa is in a persistent vegetative state. This evidence is compelling.

Terri is a living, breathing human being. When awake, she sometimes groans, makes noises that emulate laughter or crying, and may appear to track movement. But the scientific medical literature and the reports this GAL obtained from highly respected neuro-science researchers indicate that these activities are common and characteristic of persons in a persistent vegetative state.

In the month during which the GAL conducted research, interviews and compiled information, he sought to visit with Theresa as often as possible, sometimes daily, and sometimes, more than once each day. During that time, the GAL was not able to independently determine that there were consistent, repetitive, intentional, reproducible interactive and aware activities. When Theresa’s mother and father were asked to join the GAL, there was no success in eliciting specific responses. Hours of observed video tape recordings of Theresa offer little objective insight about her awareness and interactive behaviors. There are instances where she appears to respond specifically to her mother. But these are not repetitive or consistent. There were instances during the GAL’s visits, when responses seemed possible, but they were not consistent in any way.

This having been said, Theresa has a distinct presence about her. Being with Theresa, holding her hand, looking into her eyes and watching how she is lovingly treated by Michael, her parents and family and the clinical staff at hospice is an emotional experience. It would be easy to detach from her if she were comatose, asleep with her eyes closed and made no noises. This is the confusing thing for the lay person about persistent vegetative states.

I find this characterization to be unusually frank for someone who does not side with Ms. Schiavo's parents in thinking that Ms. Schiavo should continue to live.

Mr. Wolfson describes Ms. Schiavo as making noises, appearing to track movement, "emulating" laughter and crying, responding to deep pain, capable of being startled, and swallowing her saliva. He seems to be describing someone who is minimally conscious as opposed to truly vegetative. He even seems as if he might be willing to grant this point when he talks about Ms. Schiavo's having "a distinct presence about her."

It is bad enough that the federal judges who have been ruling on Ms. Schiavo's fate this week are disregarding the possiblility that the Florida state judges may have overlooked some minimal state of consciousness or cognition in Ms. Schiavo. That they are doing so contrary to the clear instruction of the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States is disgraceful.

I have really lost a lot of respect for the judges who have refused to grant a temporary stay of Ms. Schiavo's euthanasia by dehydration. It's one thing to stubbornly defend the prerogatives of the judiciary, it's a whole other thing to do so at the expense of a possibly wrongfully forfeited innocent person's life. This gets me angry.

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