Prospects for saving Terri Schiavo appear increasingly dim. Unless a federal appeals court acts immediately to instruct the district court to order a feeding tube re-inserted, she will die of dehydration and starvation in a matter of days. A surprising number of Americans believe this is a good thing, at least according to some polls taken over the last few weeks.
An ABC poll taken this week showed that 63 percent of Americans favored the removal of Schiavo's feeding tubes, while only 28 percent opposed the court-ordered action. But a closer look at the poll reveals stunning bias in the way the question was posed. The poll asserted that Schiavo "has been on life support for 15 years," and that "doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible," before positing the question, "Do you support or oppose the decision to remove Schiavo's feeding tube?" But the premise itself was wrong.
Schiavo was not on "life support" as that term is commonly understood. She suffers no life-threatening disease or condition. She required no ventilator to assist her breathing, no dialysis machine for kidney function, nor any other medical "life support" systems. Like many severely disabled people, Schiavo does require assistance in obtaining nutrition. It's not even clear that she requires the permanent use of a feeding tube. Several physicians who have examined Schiavo acknowledge that she swallows her own saliva -- an estimated two liters a day -- and at least one board-certified neurologist who examined her on three separate occasions has testified that she probably could be trained to swallow other liquids as well, given the proper therapy. If she can swallow on her own, it would require little more to keep Schiavo alive than it does all infants and many elderly and physically or mentally disabled people -- a caring individual to feed and clothe her and attend to her personal hygiene.
So on what basis is withholding food and water justified? Many of those polled by ABC seemed to base their responses on how they would want to be treated in similar circumstances. "If you were in this condition, would you want to be kept alive, or not?" the pollsters asked. Some 78 percent of respondents said they would not want to be kept alive -- an astonishingly high number. But, interestingly, only one week earlier another ABC poll found an even larger number -- 87 percent -- who said they would want to die in similar circumstances.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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