Reader letter


Dear Mr. Lifson:
I read your March 25 article, "The Old Media Game," with ever—decreasing enthusiasm.  It began with an accurate account of the bad habits of the media, but, in my view, the remainder of the article exemplifies the religious right's equally chronic bad habit of carefully ignoring the pending question in favor of a predetermined answer.
The sole pending question in this case is whether Terri Schivo wished ——while she still had the capacity to form a wish and to express it—— to be kept alive in a condition of radically diminished capacity.  The Florida court charged with answering that question has concluded that her last comptent wish was to not prolong her own life in the circumstance in which she now exists, or might reasonably hope to exist later on.  That answer has survived review by, or petition for review to, every higher court in the state and federal systems.  It is therefore "the law of the case."  In the law, unless there is a change in circumstance that justifies further review, the discussion has concluded.
Even so, there is no indication that Ms. Schivo would have wanted to remain alive in the circumstances which are her best conceivable medical outcome, even assuming the best case scenario that might be disclosed in the tests to which you now refer.  There is no record on which to conclude that Ms. Schivo wanted to have her autonomic system sustained while awaiting a miracle.
The interests you seek to promote, therefore, are not hers.  But neither Ms. Schivos' parents', Mr. Schivo's, the President or the Pope's, your, my or anyone else's opinion or preference is currently in issue.  If Ms. Schivo's preference for her own life is contrary to God's will, then He will no doubt take up directly with her the matter of her exercise of the free will He granted her.  As a Christian, however, I am unaware of a biblical basis on which we might consider ourselves invited by the Almighty to suspend Ms. Schivo's exercise of the free will he gave her.  Similarly, as a citizen of the United States, I am unaware of a legal, political or ethical basis on which we might consider ourselves justified in contradicting Ms. Schivo's most fundamental decision as a free woman. 
Certainly, we may empathize with her parents' desires to prolong their daughter's life at all costs, in order to prolong hope against hope.  And it is tempting to want Mr. Schivo to capitulate to his in—laws' wishes, in light of the near certainty that his wife would never know that her wishes had been foresaken.  But the ethics of the situation run clearly counter to the wishes of those who seek to prolong Ms. Schivo's physical existence: no matter how they may characterize the matter, in the end, they seek to usurp her right, recognized in the law, to have decided this essential question for herself.  
"I know what's best for you" may be an appropriate message from a parent to a small child.  But from one adult to another, it is the slogan either of a tyrant or a zealot ——in either case, someone not entitled to credence in a free society.  We as a nation are better than that.  Nor can we allow public discourse to be defined by the single—issue sloganeers who are circling her deathbed, whose views are opposed but who share the same failing: to them, everything relates to their issue, and is therefore to be fought over to the bitter end.  (Or worse, they just recognize a good fundraising opportunity when they see one.)  We cannot afford to succumb to indiscriminate bickering and habitual false witness.  Rather, I urge, we must insist on reasoned public discourse, and on support for Terri Schivo's freedom and dignity ——as proxy for our own.
This is not a day to decide whether a competent adult may choose to end her own life by suicide, or whether euthanasia is ever justified, or whether a fetus is a person.  This tragic matter does not raise those questions.  Rather, this is a day to acknowledge that Ms. Schivo has been taken by cruel circumstance from those who loved her, and that, in that circumstance, there is no decision to be made: Ms. Schivo made her decision well over a decade ago.  It would be well that we respect both it and her. 
Bill Edwards
Miami, Florida