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The Death of Terri Schiavo Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Jide Keye, Nigeria May 23, 2005
Human Rights   Opinions


To many, they believed justice had been done; they seem to give as a valid reason for the 13 days starvation of Terri Schiavo the fact that she "had been on life support for more than 15 years" with no significant improvement, and was "in a constant vegetable state". Both of these assertions are wrong. Terri Schiavo was not on a life support system. She was being fed through tubes, an experience which many of us have gone through. Also, the medical personnel who care for her and her family asserted in various moments that she reacted to stimuli, responded to voices, smiled and could recognise persons. To be brain impaired is quite different from being "in a constant vegetable state".

The key problem one sees in the views expressed in the said article is the underlying assumption that a human life must have a utilitarian value, otherwise it is of no use. The learned doctor says that Terri showed no significant improvement and was growing older: "What time would she begin to spend her life?" He implies that given that she might never be able to jump around, hold a job or carry out any of the activities which normal people do, it was better to end her life. But it must be pointed out that human life is of the utmost value. It cannot be reduced to mere considerations of how useful or active a person is. If we were to reduce things to that level, old people and the disabled would come to be seen as burdens, to be got rid of as quickly as possible. Terri Schiavo had the greatest thing that anyone could ask for: a family that loved her. For them, she was not a burden but their treasure. And this is what life has to be about: to be loved with a love that considers what we are and not what we can do.

Following the death of Terri, the American President, George W. Bush, stated that: "The essence of civilisation is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favour of life." He advocated "a culture of life, where everyone is welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others." True justice is to give each one his due. And everyone has a right to life. If the law is not capable of offering such protection to the weak, then one would have no choice but to agree with Mr. Bumble of Oliver Twist, that "the law is an ass."



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