Quality of Life

I had a discussion with a friend at work last night about the whole Terri Schiavo situation. I mentioned the Fox News poll which said that 54% said that removing Terri's feeding tube was "mercy" while 28% said that it was "murder." I was surprised that so many people were willing to countenance the barbaric death by starvation and dehydration of a brain-damaged woman. I suppose that they tried to put themselves in her situation and asked themselves, "If I was that badly brain-damaged and had put my family and friends through the monetary and psychic costs of taking care of me for 15 years with no end in sight, would I want to live in that state?" And the answer for most was obviously "No." They viewed her quality of life as being so bad that it was a mercy to end it, no matter how cruel the method of doing so might be.

The problem is that this opens a very large can of worms. If we can accept the ending of Terri Schiavo's life because of her terrible quality of life, then there are obviously many other disabled people who are in danger of the same fate. The mentally retarded, the Downs Syndrome and fetal alchohol kids, the paralyzed, the amputees: The quality of their lives is pretty bad, too. None of us would want to live under those kinds of circumstances, right?

And what about those who live in desperate poverty around the world? Remember all those people who died in the December tsunami? The ones who weren't rich Western tourists were mostly dirt-poor natives, living subsistance lives hand-to-mouth. They've never had a Starbucks triple latte or played on a Sony Playstation, so the quality of their lives must be pretty bad. Maybe they were better off dead, too?

And for that matter, what about the rest of us who aren't as rich as our oligarchic masters in government? After all, if you don't have a ski chalet or a private island off the New England coast as a vacation spot, if you can't afford to enjoy the adrenaline rush of driving a Lamborghini, if you aren't a connoisseur of fine cognacs, why, then you must not have a very good quality of life, either. And remember, our masters in the black robes are the ones who decide who lives and who dies these days, if you aren't responsible enough to make your own plans in advance.


barbara said...

I am so exhausted by this debate. But one of the more interesting columns I've read asked why there wasn't more discussion of the illness that put her in that condition. (Mike Madigan, Chgo Trib)

It is a visciously cruel irony that removing a feeding tube is what ultimately killed her when her own self-induced purging is what apparently started all this.

Clyde said...

Perhaps, Barbara. Perhaps. We'll know more after the autopsy.

marydell said...

Is quality of life what this is really all about? Don't you think the artificial means of keeping her alive might also merit debate? She wouldn't have been able to survive if feeding tubes weren't available. It's not like society is suddenly going to start wanting to starve the mentally retarded.

Clyde said...

I think much of the public reaction really was about quality of life, Mary. People said "I wouldn't want to live like that, so she probably wouldn't either, so it's okay to let her die, even if it is in a slow and torturous way." Many of the same people who were crying about the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib thought that starving Terri Schiavo to death was just fine.

Do you think that Christopher Reeve would have lived as long as he did without artificial means helping him to survive? But nobody wanted to kill him.

For me, this wasn't an "end of life" issue, because she wasn't DYING until they took the feeding tube away. And the fact that it took her 13 days to die of starvation and dehydration is a stain on our nation. Convicted murderers at least get a quick, humane lethal injection.