[Paleopsych] The Age (au): Why the pro-life lobby lost a do-or-die battle

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Why the pro-life lobby lost a do-or-die battle
The Age (Melbourne)

    The legal case to keep Terri Schiavo alive failed because of
    ineptitude, writes Michael Cook.

    With the impending death of Terri Schiavo, US euthanasia advocates
    have scored a public relations hat-trick. Within a single month Clint
    Eastwood won an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside,
    about a quadriplegic who commits suicide, was feted as the best
    foreign film.

    Now, after more than a decade of litigation, a 41-year-old
    brain-damaged Florida woman is slowly dying at her husband's request.
    What's more, recent polls show that most Americans are so confused
    about end-of-life treatment that they think that this is a good thing.

    Who is to blame for this fear of extreme disability? Pro-lifers might
    plausibly blame "left-leaning media" for the Oscars. But the fate of
    Terri Schiavo is an own goal. Their lawyers were outsmarted at every
    turn by George Felos, the lawyer for Schiavo's husband.

    Felos was the heavy artillery of the right-to-die movement, a cunning
    strategist who had won Florida's most influential right-to-die case in
    1989, and who is a media-savvy talk-show guest.

    Schiavo's death warrant was effectively signed in 2000, with a
    decision by Florida judge George Greer that she would have chosen to
    have her tube removed. It is this judgement that was upheld time and
    time again by superior courts. Pro-life bloggers have demonised Greer.
    But they ought to read some of the evidence.

    First of all, the Schindler family were tricked. They are loving and
    compassionate people, but they were manoeuvred into giving a
    incredibly distorted picture of what the Catholic Church teaches about
    patients in a persistent vegetative state.

    Her brother said that it would be a joy for him to see Schiavo alive -
    in a respirator or with limbs amputated.

    Her mother stated that discomfort or pain was not a factor in
    discontinuing life support. The mother and the brother and sister all
    agreed that if they were in Schiavo's situation and had gangrenous
    limbs that had to be amputated, they would choose that rather than

    But Catholics are not masochists. Their church has always taught, in
    the words of a 1980 Vatican document, that patients can "refuse forms
    of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome
    prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick
    person in similar cases is not interrupted".

    To compound the confusion, Felos wheeled out a hospital chaplain,
    Father Gerard Murphy, as "an expert in the area of the Catholic
    Church's position on end of life care". Father Murphy said that
    removing Schiavo's feeding tube was consistent with his church's
    teaching. This is nonsense, of course. The Pope, also an expert on the
    Catholic Church's position, recently stated that "a sick person in a
    vegetative state . . . still has the right to basic health care
    (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc)." But given the
    uncertainty about Schiavo's religious beliefs and the apparent
    insensitivity of her family, Greer found Murphy's testimony
    sympathetic and "completely candid".

    Still worse were the medical experts. Felos easily found two "clear
    and convincing" neurologists who testified that Schiavo was in a
    persistent vegetative state. With all of the American medical
    profession a phone call away, the Schindlers' team wheeled out two

    One was a Dr William Maxfield, who was not even a neurologist, but an
    expert in hyperbaric medicine - breathing pressurised oxygen.

    The other was a Dr William Hammesfahr, a neurologist whose garish
    website touts him as a "Nobel Prize nominee". Nobel Prize winners
    normally publish papers in major journals, unlike Dr Hammesfahr, whose
    publications are few and obscure. However, he was a 1992 keynote
    speaker for the Alabama Academy of Osteopathic Physicians. You get the
    picture: one random and one shonk.

    To break the tie, Greer engaged a fifth neurologist, Dr Ronald
    Cranford. He is well spoken and highly convincing. He is also a
    spokesman for the right-to-die movement. His testimony tilted the

    The fundamental problem with the case mounted by the Schindler family
    is that they depicted Schiavo's plight as a religious issue.

    In fact, it is a human rights issue. Schiavo is not in pain and is not
    dying. She is not on life support. Her care is not expensive. Why does
    her disability deserve a death sentence?

    The American disability lawyer and activist Harriet McBryde Johnson
    put it clearly: "This belief that withdrawing a feeding tube is
    different than other killing - why is that a reasonable distinction? I
    haven't heard anybody say it would be OK to kill Terri Schiavo if she
    weren't on a feeding tube."

    Given that US law favours living wills, even though studies have shown
    that they often don't work, the fight to save Schiavo's life was bound
    to be difficult. But it could have been won if it had been fought by
    professionals. It wasn't.

    Michael Cook is the editor of BioEdge, an email newsletter on
    mcook at australasianbioethics.org


      * Michael Gawenda: [23]Schiavo: playing God and politics


   23. http://www.theage.com.au/news/Opinion/Schiavo-playing-God-and-politics/2005/03/30/1111862458552.html

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