Maggie Gallagher

Terri is not brain dead. She is alive. We do not know whether her damaged brain will be able to reconnect itself with the rest of the world. We do know that patients with the same diagnosis have woken up, even 20 years later, their memories and personalities intact. Dudley should know better. After his dad suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, he looked into his father's eyes and just knew, "My father wasn't there anymore." So he and his family ordered the tubes supplying food and water be discontinued. It took nine days for the family's refusal to give water to the thirsty to have its inevitable effect.

When Mom suffered the same kind of stroke, he again looked into her eyes and knew that she too was gone. Then, just as they were about to disconnect her lifeline, she woke up, going from comatose to critic in seconds: "That picture is really dreadful. I'd like it taken down." The fact that his mother, and some others, come back from persistent vegetative states (even after years) tells us something very important: They are still there. Even when they cannot reach us and we cannot reach them, they are still there.

Not dead yet. Not even dying. Just in need of help with food and water.

The real question is not "Who decides?" or "What is family?" or even "What would Terri Schiavo want?" The real question in this case is: What kind of people are we?

In Florida, the people through their legislature have spoken: not the kind of people who starve disabled women to death. Not yet, anyway.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.