That issue was slurred and muffled by the media and by shrewd, though completely misleading, right-to-die arguments that distracted us from the core issue of consent. George Felos, the attorney of Terri Schiavo?s husband, Michael, told Larry King, ?Quality of life is one of those tricky things because it?s a very personal and individual decision. I don?t think any of us have the right to make a judgment about quality of life for another.? Here Felos piously got away with adopting a deadly argument against his own position by presenting it as somehow bolstering his case.
This can happen only when the media are totally incurious or already committed to your side. Michael Schiavo made a somewhat similar eye-popping argument to King: ?I think that every person in this country should be scared. The government is going to trample all over your private and personal matters. It?s outrageous that these people that we elect are not letting you have your civil liberties to choose what you want when you die.?
Americans were indeed scared that they might one day be in Terri Schiavo?s predicament. But Michael was speaking as though Terri Schiavo?s wishes in the matter were clear and Republicans were determined to trample them anyway. Yet her wishes, as Didion says, were ?essentially unconfirmable? and based on bits of hearsay reported by people whose interests were not obviously her own?Michael Schiavo and two of his relatives.
One hearsay comment??no tubes for me??came while Terri Schiavo was watching television. ?Imagine it,? Didion wrote. ?You are in your early 20s. You are watching a movie, say on Lifetime, in which someone has a feeding tube. You pick up the empty chip bowl. ?No tubes for me,? you say as you get up to fill it. What are the chances you have given this even a passing thought??
According to studies cited last year in the Hastings Center Report, Didion reminds us, almost a third of written directives, after periods as short as two years, no longer reflect the wishes of those who made them. And here nothing was written down at all.
The autopsy confirms the extraordinary damage to Schiavo and discredits those who tried to depict the husband as a wife-beater. But the autopsy has nothing to say about the core moral issue: Do people with profound disabilities no longer have a right to live? That issue is still on the table.