An innocent woman in Florida is about to be put to death.
By Charles Reichley
I am an opponent of the death penalty whenever we aren't absolutely sure that the person is guilty of a capital crime. I certainly oppose the punishment of innocent people. But in Florida they are about to put an innocent woman to death.
The courts have heard the appeals, and rejected them. The governor has tried to grant clemency, but the courts overruled him. Her parents have pleaded for mercy, but their cries fall on deaf ears. And the media, which normally can be counted on to side with those sentenced to die, are silent or speak favorably in this particular case.
I do not speak of a criminal, but of Terri Schindler-Schiavo. Terri is a severely handicapped woman. Terri's "crime" is to live in an age when we have so devalued life that courts (and many of our fellow human beings) think they do us a favor by ending it.
Terri is not kept alive by machines. She breathes on her own, and has ever since her incident in 1990. Being paralyzed, she does need help to eat. She is fed through a tube, although her parents believe she might be able to eat normally if given a chance.
The plan is to starve her to death by removing her tube and refusing to allow others feed her. This is supposed to allow her to "die with dignity." A woman in Prince William County, Virginia, just got jail time for starving her dogs. But our judicial system thinks starving is an appropriate end for Terri. Withholding food and water from terrorists is considered torture, but starving the disabled is how we "respect life."
One side of this story can be found at www.terrisfight.org. Terri did not sign a form saying she would want to die. If she had I would disagree with her, but at least it would be her decision. Her husband insists she would want to die, and her parents say she doesn't. There are doctors on both sides. There was a time when the benefit of the doubt would dictate that she be fed, but not today. The concept of "quality of life" as an excuse to end life is a product of the age we live in, to our detriment.
The idea of "death with dignity" is meaningless in this case. If Terri is brain-dead, she has no way to experience "dignity" or anything else. If on the other hand she is still cognitive, as the evidence shows, there is no excuse to starve her to death simply because she can't communicate.
Sarah Scantlin is a young woman who has been in a state similar to Terri's for the past 20 years¯unable to speak or move, and fed through a tube. But to the surprise of her doctors she just started talking again. She is thankful to be alive. It is possible Terri could have the same miracle, if given a chance and the appropriate treatment.
I don't want to minimize the agonizing decisions which must sometime be made regarding termination of treatment. But if I am wrong, if Terri is really brain-dead, if her body is just a shell, there is no real harm done by feeding that shell. And if I am right, if Terri is aware of her surroundings and wants to live, the harm of painfully starving her to death would be of tragic proportion.
But there is a broader issue than the life of one woman. It is the culture which makes us indifferent to, or worse supportive of, efforts to end her life. This isn't an isolated incident. In the late 1990s we had a similar case in Northern Virginia. As in Florida, a few brave legislators (like Del. Bob Marshall, R-13th), and the governor, attempted to save Hugh Finn, but were thwarted by the courts. There was evidence Hugh did not want to die, but his "dignity" was more important to the courts than his life.
Another Virginia story shows how far we have fallen. Carlos Williams is charged with beating his pregnant girlfriend to death with a baseball bat. State law allows for the death penalty in this case. But the prosecutor won't press for the death penalty because he believes the man only wanted to kill the baby, not his girlfriend. That that should make a difference should shock us. That those who hear it don't cry out in anger is disheartening. We have lost respect for life. I'll discuss why in another column.
We need life with dignity, not death. We need politicians and judges who respect life, who will fight for life instead of fighting for those who would end it. Because if we lose the battle over the dignity of life, if we give in to the concept of "quality of life" as judged by others, we will be little better than the terrorists who believe that a life not lived for their "god" is similarly worthless and should be terminated.