[Paleopsych] The Szasz Blog: The Terri Schiavo Case
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The Terri Schiavo Case
The purpose of The Szasz Blog is to advance the debate about Thomas S.
Szasz's basic ideas and their practical implications. The Szasz Blog
is part of The Szasz Site, www.szasz.com The administrators are Jeff
Schaler and Sheldon Richman. Comments are published at the discretion
of the administrators. Please stay on topic. The length should not
exceed 250 words. E-mail comments to sheldon at sheldonrichman.com or
jeffschaler at attglobal.net
Saturday, March 19, 2005
The Terri Schiavo Case
The sad case of Terri Schiavo brings important medical-ethical issues
to the fore. But this is not a hard case. As a general principle, when
there is reasonable doubt about an incapacitated person's wishes
regarding life-support and when someone is willing to pay for
continued support, the presumption should be in favor of life and a
spouse should not be able to terminate it. In this case, there is no
written proof that Terri Schiavo expressed a wish not to be kept
alive. All we have is her husband's and one or two other persons' say
so. Not good enough. In fact, according to Terri Schiavo's parents,
"When he [husband Michael Schiavo] promised the malpractice jury back
in 1993 that he would take care of Terri for the rest of his life, Mr.
Schiavo said nothing to the jury about Terri not wanting to be
sustained on anything `artificial.'"
Not only was Michael Schiavo awarded money by a jury for her
perpetual care, it has been reported that others have offered to pay
for her life-support. Add to these facts that ten years ago Michael
Shiavo commenced a romantic relationship with another woman whom he
describes as his fiance, has had two children with that woman, and has
announced that he has "moved on" with his life, and his wish to
disconnect his wife from feeding and hydration tubes becomes suspect
and indeed irrelevant. The Florida courts long ago should have
excluded Michael Shiavo from the matter, declaring that he has a
conflict of interest, and recognized Terri Schiavo's parents as her
The fact is, we don't know what Terri Shiavo would say she wants if
she could speak for herself. But there should be a presumption in
favor of preserving life unless that presumption is overcome by an
It might be argued that in her condition, Terri Schiavo is no longer a
person and thus has no interests. But what is the difference between a
former person (non-person) and a severely impaired person? Does the
desired disposition dictate which term we use? Language is often more
prescriptive than descriptive.
posted by Sheldon Richman @ 12:05 PM 11 comments
At 5:16 PM, Lee Killough said...
Here is a radio interview (MP3) of Terri's brother, Bob
Schindler, and family lawyer, Pat Anderson, that was recorded
by a friend of mine this week.
At 9:34 PM, Mira de Vries said...
It is clear that there is a horrific feud going on between the
parents and the husband. We should be careful not to take
The idea that the husband has a conflict of interest while the
parents don't is unfair. Surely no one is suggesting that the
husband should have stayed celibate for fifteen years. Now
there is a new family which also has interests. This may be
affecting not only the husband's point of view, but also that
of the parents, who clearly resent the new family.
I'm not for a moment suggesting that Mrs. Schiavo should be
allowed to die for the benefit of the new family. I'm only
pointing out that there is no party without a conflict of
Does Mrs. Schiavo truly respond to environmental stimuli, as
her parents claim? Or are they fighting acceptance of the
reality that she is no longer? Or are they using their daughter
to punish the new family?
Perhaps no one can know the answer for sure, which would
certainly be a reason to continue the life-support, but I don't
think the issue is as clear-cut as you suggest.
At 11:26 PM, Nicolas Martin said...
Being careless, I'll side with the conflict of interest known
as love. I agree that there should be a "presumption in favor
of preserving life."
Don't the physicians who are caring for Mrs. Schiavo want to
disconnect her? How can the woman be kept alive if the state
does not compel the doctors and the hospital to keep her on
support? Why should the state have such power?
At 12:01 AM, Nicolas Martin said...
Too bad nobody remembered to bring a video camera to this
Terri Schiavo Tried to Tell Parents' Attorney She Wanted to
Barbara Weller, one of the attorneys for Terri's parents Bob
and Mary Schindler, told reporters about her visit with Terri
"Terri, if you would just say, 'I want to live,' all of this
will be over," she told the disabled woman.
Weller said Terri desperately tried to repeat Weller's words.
"'I waaaaannt ...,' Schiavo allegedly said. Weller described it
as a prolonged yell that was loud enough that police stationed
nearby entered the hospice room.
"She just started yelling, 'I waaaannt, I waaaannt,'" Weller
At that point, police removed Weller from Terri's hospice room
and, later, her feeding tube was removed.
At 7:21 AM, Sheldon Richman said...
I am not saying I agree with the parents' decision or that we
know that their position is untainted by vindictiveness. All
I'm arguing for is a presumption in behalf of the preservation
of life. It does not follow from this that the taxpayers should
be compelled to maintain life-support. I understand that
private money has been offered to support her.
At 10:21 AM, Mira de Vries said...
Sheldon, surely the right to life is not contingent on the
willingness of a third party to pay for it?
In Libertaria, where the state has no power except to protect
citizens' right to life, liberty, and property, the
technological possibility of life-support systems will force us
to take another look at the definition of life.
At 10:43 AM, Sheldon Richman said...
The right to life cannot mean that others (absent a contract)
have an obligation to sustain that person's life. That would be
slavery. It means only the right to take non-coercive actions
to maintain one's life.
At 10:44 AM, Sheldon Richman said...
It would be hard to come up with a group of people more cynical
than the the Republican leadership in the Congress. This is
from today's Washington Post:
"In a memo distributed only to Republican senators, the Schiavo
case was characterized as 'a great political issue' that could
pay dividends with Christian conservatives, whose support is
essential in midterm elections such as those coming up in
At 11:13 AM, Mira de Vries said...
Sheldon said: "The right to life cannot mean that others
(absent a contract) have an obligation to sustain that person's
In Mrs. Schiavo's case, that would mean that the husband has an
obligation to sustain her life at whatever cost, as it is
understood by the marriage contract. On the other hand, he has
no obligation to sustain the life of his common-law wife, as
state law prohibiting bigamy prevents him from making a
marriage contract with her.
My conclusion is that as long as the state interferes so
heavily in our private lives, we cannot always apply
libertarian principles to the right to life.
At 8:54 PM, Nicolas Martin said...
mira de vries wrote: "[S]urely the right to life is not
contingent on the willingness of a third party to pay for it?"
You mean, I assume that the right to remain alive should not
depend on third party support. But why not?
Does Mrs. Schiavo retain the right to indefinitely force others
to maintain her on life support? Does that right extend to
doctors who think it unethical to keep her alive? Does it
extend to her family, even in the event they decide she should
not be sustained artifically? Does it extend to all people who
If an adult has a right to live at the expense of others,
should this right be confined just to medical interventions?
Does someone who, due to handicap, cannot generate the income
to feed or house himself have the right to compel others to
support him? If a person is so impaired that he cannot bring
food to his mouth, does he have the right to compel others to
put the food in his mouth? If so, is this a right that can be
exercised only indirectly, such as by having taxpayer money pay
for an assistant, or can it be exercised directly, such as by
having the police compel his neighbor or family to attend to
If you believe that the family or taxpayers can be compelled to
support a right to life, does that also mean that they are
obliged to provide assistance, directly or indirectly, to all
elderly persons who haven't the financial, mental, or physical
wherewithall to care for themselves?
I'm interested in more details on this positive right that you
are apparently propounding. What are its boundaries? I can't
see how it could be limited to medical care: food and shelter
are just as critical for survival. And I don't see why it
requires a redefinition of life or of ethics.
At 11:39 AM, Mira de Vries said...
I have great faith that in a libertarian society, people (not
everybody, but sufficient) will feel responsible for each
other's lives, and rally to the rescue when needed. If I
didn't, I wouldn't be a libertarian.
In our current society, which, I don't have to point out to
you, isn't libertarian, the state takes this responsibility
upon itself. Private citizens are actively discouraged and even
prevented from helping each other, for instance because they
are not licensed to do so.
As a libertarian living in a maxarchy, I find that not all
dilemmas are easily solved by rigid principles.
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