March 22, 2005

Terri Schiavo: Murder Victim

Victim of the US justice system and her estranged, adulterous husband, Terri Schiavo will starve to death in the next three to ten days. Make no mistake, this is illegal - it is murder. Just because judges conspire to allow or make it happen does not change the fact that it is fundamentally illegal - under both Florida statute and the US Constitution.

Let's be clear on some misconceptions:

1) This is not "an issue for the family to settle." That's cowardly. The family is fighting in court, and whenever the justice system is involved every US citizen is automatically entitled - legally and socially - to hold and express an opinion. The question is HOW the justice system ought to handle the dispute. If you don't care if they kill Terri, then say so. Don't cop out by saying it's not your business. US law is every American's business.

2) Terri has NOT had the best medical care possible. She has not been rehabilitated, and attempts to do so have been foiled by Judge Greer and attorney George Felos.

3) Terri NEVER had an MRI. Terri NEVER had a PET scan. Michael Schiavo refused to consent to getting them. What has she had? A CT scan. For those who aren't familiar, a CT scan is a very rough replacement of MRI - useful in ERs or when damage is so major that detail isn't required. The problem is that a CT scan, as neurologists will tell you, is only about a tenth the detail of an MRI - and even legitimately PVS patients can have normal-looking or nearly normal-looking MRIs. So when George Felos says Terri's cerebral cortex has been liquified, he's giving you his opinion as a layman, not any evidence medical science has provided. How could he possibly have evidence when he and Michael Schiavo have refused to investigate Terri's condition? Read more here.

4) A persistent vegetative state means you cannot interact purposefully with your environment - that stimuli elicit no response. This video from the Schindler website obviously shows Terri interacting with her environment. A few tests could no doubt confirm that Terri is not PVS - after all, seventeen doctors and nurses have said she is not in a PVS. She's reacting to a cotton swab placed in her mouth and on her lips by blinking, pursing her lips and moving her head. If she were PVS, she wouldn't be able to respond to these things and any motions she made would be random or unrelated. According a British Medical Journal study done by the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability there was a 43-percent rate of error in diagnosing PVS - mostly because PVS and PVS-like patients are erratic and it can take months to diagnose them properly. Of course, Terri has not even had an MRI or PET, so diagnosing her as PVS is horribly immature - and as it happens, almost certainly false.

5) Double conflict of interest - in any matter of law over $500 at dispute, there needs to be a written contract confirming the affair. Michael Schiavo stood to inherit a great deal of money - way over $500 - if Terri Schiavo died. In fact, it's well beyond the point where, if Terri were murdered, Michael Schiavo would be suspect number one. Yet he's allowed to kill her in the open and inherit the money anyway - even without a written statement from Terri confirming her wishes. The other conflict of interest is that he's not truly her spouse any longer. He has a whole other family - a fiance of eight years and their two children. There's no clean mechanism for recognizing this bias but surely he cannot exercise his spousal duties in objective good faith with both $1.7 million to inherit and a whole other family to care for. Either one of those conflicts of interest would make him a huge suspect if Terri were shot and killed.

6) The presumption of liberty is the premier sign of a free and rational society. We recognize this critical right in courts with the gold-standard of presumption of innocence; no matter what you stand accused of doing, you are innocent until they prove otherwise. Your liberty is yours until it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed an act to deprive yourself of it. In criminal law, this means a crime. But in order to deprive yourself of the liberty to life, apparently all you need is somebody willing to cheat on you and exploit your illness for his personal profit. It ought to be the same as criminal court; unless they can prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt that you wanted to be let off respirators or feeding tubes, they shouldn't be able to do it. Simple, eh? More importantly, Terri didn't commit a crime, so her right (to life) cannot be infringed without her say-so. We don't know what she wanted, therefore we must default to liberty - and to life.

There are so many reasons to let her live, and no compelling reason to rush to kill her. We can always kill her later if we're wrong to keep her alive; we can never ressurect her if we're wrong to kill her. Let's err on the side of life and liberty.

UPDATE: I have added this blog entry, mostly unchanged, to my website as an issue article. It can be found here.

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