Nation mourns Schiavo

By Sara Adams and Mary Martin

As Terri Shiavo took her last breath Thursday morning, the nation exhaled with her.

After 13 days without a feeding tube, Terri Schiavo died at 9:05 a.m. She was 41 years old.

Schiavo’s case attracted hordes of media attention because of a decade-and-a-half long battle between Schiavo’s parents, wishing to keep her alive for religious purposes, and her husband, who said Schiavo would not have wanted to live in the state she was in.

Associate philosophy professor Sharon Sytsma said she is relieved Schiavo is at rest and does not believe she should have been kept alive for the amount of time she was.

She said she believes the attention given to Schiavo’s situation by both the media and the government was “an affront to Terri’s dignity” and did not show her the proper respect.

“I think that people who think that there is a duty to extend life in such situations are misguided or uninformed about the end-of-life process,” Sytsma said. “I think that the assertion by her parents that she didn’t have enough medical treatment and that it was possible for her to show improvement was not at all realistic. We know that people that have been in a [permanent vegetative state] this long don’t come out of it. If they do, it’s very briefly, and it’s in a terribly compromised state.”

The Rev. Addison Hart of the Newman Catholic Center sees the decision on Schiavo’s behalf as murder.

“It’s interesting that we’ve now come up with the perfect crime in a sense,” Hart said. “You get the judge to basically give you the go-ahead before committing an act of murder.”

Hart said he also feels Schiavo’s rights were violated and called into question the concept of the right to life.

“If I was to do the same thing to my dog if he was sick, I’d be in trouble,” Hart said. “I could spend 30 days in jail for starving my dog, and it’s interesting that a dog has more rights at this point than Terri Schiavo.”

Sytsma said politicians used Schiavo’s situation for their own self interest and would have never supported keeping her alive if they were more educated about the end of life.

“They wouldn’t want to be kept alive in such a situation, but they also know that there is a powerful part of our society that calls themselves the ‘culture for life,’” Sytsma said. “This is an emotive label that makes them sound good.”

Hart said he thought the country needed less governmental presence in this situation as well.

“I don’t think the government should be involved in much of anything,” Hart said. “The government’s job is to protect our borders.”

Hart blames both the medical profession, saying it has lost sight of its goal to keep people alive, and the legal profession, which is becoming the sole determinant in ethical and moral issues in the United States, Hart said.

“When the legal profession begins to dictate morality, we’re in trouble,” Hart said.

Dehydration is a natural process in death, and it makes dying easier, Sytsma said.

“It’s misleading to say we’re starving her to death or making her die of thirst. Those are just natural processes that go along with dying,” she said.

But Hart argues Michael Schiavo’s intentions weren’t in his wife’s best interest, but rather his own.

“Micaell Schiavo was very much concerned about getting his $300,000 from 1993 or ‘94,” Hart said. “So that kind muddies the waters ethically.”

Sytsma said she wishes authoritative and religious figures who supported Michael Schiavo’s decision would voice their opinions.

“People [are] thinking this is what morality requires,” Sytsma said. “I know, for instance, many Catholics think you have to do everything to keep someone alive, but that’s not necessarily the Catholic position.”

Dave Grzelak, a junior political science major, was disgusted by how Congress and the media made a “national spectacle of one family’s tragedy and legal struggle.” He also adds that the attention given to Schiavo’s case caused Congress and cable news to overlook other important issues.

“I think they’re overlooking the coming bankruptcy of Medicare and Medicaid and lack of access to health care for many Americans, which causes thousands of deaths every year,” Grzelak said.

The situation might have some good outcomes, Sytsma said.

“I hope people, especially students, will realize the importance of an advance directive,” she said. “I think a living will indicating who you want to be your power of attorney is more effective than a living will, which is sometimes disregarded if there are people that feel uncomfortable about what the patient has said.”

“Making sure family members know what you want in such a situation is important,” Sytsma said.

“This made people realize the importance of having a living will,” Grzelak said.