Kathleen Parker

With Terri Schiavo's death, we can look forward to weeks, months and possibly years of discussion about what we've learned from this sad, tragic, depressing and sometimes embarrassing travail.

From the carnival cast who camped outside Schiavo's hospice to the pious pontificators on all sides, we've been treated to a surreal adventure through the culture of life and the valley of death. What are we to make of it?

Was Michael Schiavo a hero for fighting to let his wife die, as he claimed she would have wanted? Or was he a villain for depriving Terri Schiavo's parents of their desire to care for their daughter? Was Terri Schiavo capable of suffering, aware of her surroundings? Or was she, as some doctors determined, in a "persistent vegetative state," essentially not "there"?

The Schiavo saga may be like war - something we have to recover from before we can make rational judgments about the rightness or wrongness of our actions. As one who concluded that the humane and common-sense solution was to let Schiavo live and her parents care for her, I find myself at a loss for appropriate closing words except to say that something went terribly wrong here.

Objectively, there seemed on several points to be enough "reasonable doubt" - the standard for any jury considering a death sentence - to avoid the final solution. Distilled to simplest terms, the crux was this: If Terri Schiavo would not suffer from dying, then she also would not suffer from living.

Fundamentally, is it not better to build our slippery slope on the side of a beating heart?

I pose this strictly as a philosophical question, not as a practical matter in consideration of all the thousands of people living among snarls of medical tubing and industrial machinery, or medical and insurance costs, or even family hardship, which all combined might incite a riot for euthanasia.

In the philosophical realm, where our better angels dwell, check marks in the "reasonable doubt" column far outnumber those in the "certainty" column - from what Terri Schiavo would have wanted to what her condition was.

Although several doctors diagnosed Terri as being in a "persistent vegetative state" (PVS), unaware of herself and her surroundings, others, including doctors and her parents, saw something else - a person badly damaged but responsive enough on occasion to warrant continued feeding, at a minimum.

There was also dispute as to what Terri would have wanted. In the absence of a written document, the word of her husband, Michael Schiavo (corroborated by a couple of his family members), sealed her fate.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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