Monday, March 28, 2005

Thoughts on Life and Death and the Process of Dying - 1 

Today is Easter Sunday and Terry Schiavo is still dying. Last week - Holy Week - it felt natural to grieve and fear and pray for her, but today is Easter and Catholics, at least, are used to being able to leave the valley of suffering and death behind at the end of a long Lent. Her feeding tube should have been reinserted by now or she should have, like Jesus, died, whether a victim of human compassion, obtuseness, selfishness or greed... All possible appeals have been made, all possible interventions executed or dismissed as unfeasible. Her father and mother, sister and brother, the bishops and priests and those of us who have stood with them in spirit through this can only, like Mary, stand, grieving, at the foot of the cross.

The literature about grief suggests that that this can be insurmountable for those who love and cherish her just as she is. Her death will be percieved as murder occasioned by the intransigence of an unfaithful husband who claims to believe that she feels and understands nothing, who will profit enormously from her death and transfoms the marriage pledge "Until death us do part" into the mantra of a horror flick. Those who cherish her heard her say, when the feeding tube was removed, "I want to live."

"Experts" say Terri can feel and percieve nothing. To them, every response she makes to her mother, every smile, every moan is autonomic. A couple of days ago KCCI in Des Moines showed a tape of an elderly man who had been in a "vegetative" state. He heard every comment made in his presence, understood the implications and feared for his life. Apparently "experts" rely not on the evidence of patients but on what they have read in textbooks.

Haven't we been taught that no one knows what 90% of our brain is doing? That viable brain cells take over the tasks of dead braincells?

Apparently there is one "expert" who has paid attention to patients and has created a new diagnosis to explain the dilemma of someone who can not fully respond, but he will not be able to testify, because no judge will give him a hearing. That could be the one thing that Terri's mother may never be able to get beyond...

"Death, where is thy victory?" rings hollow at this moment. As on Holy Friday more than 2000 years ago, the answer seems to be "Here and now."

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