Denial is not just a river in Egypt, goes the saying. Indeed, it is something very important to supporters of ending Terri Schiavo's life, judging by their head-spinning evasions.
A woman who might (or might not) be in a persistent vegetative state, but who is otherwise not ill and can continue to live for years despite her profound disability, is dying because we are refusing to give her sustenance. We are affirmatively ending her life, perhaps against her will, because there is no way now to know her will. Supporters of this act feel compelled to try to pretty it up.
They say that Terri is being "allowed to die." No. She is being made to die. All across America, in hospitals, mental wards and institutions for the severely disabled, there are people who, if we withdrew our care for them, would die. We wouldn't call this "allowing" them to die. We would call it scandalous neglect.
George Felos, the lawyer for Terri's husband, Michael, explains his position in the case thusly: "I firmly believe in the right of individuals to make their own medical-treatment choices." But Terri is not making her medical choices. Choices are being made for her, perhaps (if you believe Michael Schiavo) on the basis of things she said a decade ago, perhaps (if you don't) in the absence of any stated preference.
After visiting her bedside recently, Felos declared, "In all the years I've seen Mrs. Schiavo, I've never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her." Maybe Felos has forgotten: If she is indeed in a persistent vegetative state, as he maintains, she can't feel anything, let alone a sense of peace that would make her radiant with beauty.
Felos says Terri would want us to "ask ourselves the questions: What's the purpose of my life? And how can I best fulfill that? And how can I be of service to others?" Those are important questions, but ones liable to produce answers that might confound all our expectations. Terri Schiavo might have believed, before her tragic injury, that her purpose was to be a loving wife and mother. Now, in circumstances that would have horrified her, her purpose might be to give a kind of comfort to her family and to demonstrate to those around her the value of life, even when our capacities are heartbreakingly diminished.
Despite the spiritual-sounding mumbo jumbo, Felos and his allies want to foreclose the possibility of this purpose. They believe that some people's lives are meaningless and expendable. There is something chilling about that, which is why they so often resort to weasel words and gauzy euphemisms.