She's dead, at last. Thirteen days after her last meal, Terri Schindler Schiavo has finally succumbed. As the horrible process went on, doctors confidently stated that she was beyond pain; thank God her doctors were not so confident in practice, and at least eased with morphine any suffering her twists and moans may have indicated.
I am Terri's friend. A young woman who, when she was able to choose her friends, might have numbered them in the dozens, can now claim them in the millions - or, more accurately, cannot deny them, even if some are friends she would never have chosen herself. What we share, we friends of Terri, is belief that even though she was critically impaired, even though she had little if any chance for improvement under the best of conditions, the fact of her humanity was unaltered. We reject the term "vegetable" as applied to a human being. We reject a "right to die" articulated on her behalf by a husband who, at best, was weary of the demands her continued life placed on him. We reject an equivalence between the enforced cessation of nourishment for a woman not ill and the turning off of machines that replace the functions of non-functioning organs. We reject the obscene notion that "quality of life" can be determined by someone outside the life in question, and that a public opinion poll ought to bear on an innocent woman's right to continue to breathe.
This is what we share: we recognize that Terri's worth did not, never did, depend on her ability to write a letter or walk across a room or talk on the phone. Her worth was not determined by, but was amply demonstrated by, her family's refusal to ignore the signs that she still inhabited her own body, however imperfectly - their continual treatment of her as their daughter and their sister.
And her worth was not diminished in any tiniest amount by her faithless husband's denial of it. His mouth formed the words "Terri's wish"; his life spelled out in bold block capitals, "MICHAEL'S WISH." Whether Terri herself would have chosen these last years is a question we can never answer; but we can certainly answer the secondary question of who believed her to have value, even in a hospice room.
I am Terri's friend, though she never knew me and I never met her. I'm swallowing past a lump in my throat, typing with tear-blurred eyes, because God refuses to waste even this sad and dreadful hour, even these long and grueling years. A pretty woman who might have lived out her days shopping and going to PTA meetings and pursuing a career inside or outside her home, God has transformed into a warning signpost at the border of the dark woods we know as the "right to die": "Beware - wild animals!"
The slippery slope is a favorite fallacy in basic logic classes. The formulation is simple: a result will inevitably follow from a starting point. The fallacious part is the inevitability, not the following. Therefore: as often in the past thirteen days as I have heard kind people suggest that Terri should have been injected with enough morphine or some other humane drug to carry her off quickly rather than allow her to linger, I cannot agree. To allow doctors to assist suicide is to grant them license to do harm at the request of the patient. The harm is final; otherwise we would be talking about a kind of sado-masochistic relationship that the well-adjusted might be able to permit though not to condone. And the myth that suicide is a private matter is one that we as a society have chosen, correctly, to repudiate. To allow doctors to assist killing that is not suicide, such as to bring about Terri's swifter death, would be to grant them license to do harm to a person at the request of another. In this case, the "other" was a construct of a demonstrably estranged husband and - most horribly - a court of law. The only grace we can cling to in the behavior of this construct was that it did not ask or urge a physician to speed Terri to her death. It killed her, not passively, but at least it did not seek professional help to do it more quickly.
One terminus - a word I choose deliberately - of this slippery slope is involuntary euthanasia. While that end is not inevitable, it is absolutely necessary that we know that one path down this wooded hill leads there. The insistence by some that this "family matter" was not the province of government is an empty one; this "family matter" strikes at the deepest convictions we hold: that life is an inalienable right; that the taking of life without due process is not permissible; that the defense of life is a proper role of governments among men; that where the rights of individuals meet in conflict, the proper role of government is to act such that the fewest or smallest rights are lost. Here, the judiciary decided that the right of a husband to speak for his wife in requesting her death, though her wishes were at best inferred from minimal conversation in questionable context by compromised witnesses, trumped the right of the woman to go on living. In essence, the right to cause death trumped the right to life, in the initial judgments. And, in later judgments, the right of the judiciary to rule unchallenged trumped the right of the legislative and executive branches to act as a check and balance on it.
God lets nothing go to waste, not even this sad and dreadful hour, not even these long and grueling years. We will reap - something - from this hour, from these years. God cherish Terri's soul, and God help us choose the right path down this wooded hill.