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Mama Deb
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December 2010
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Thoughts shallow and deep

There is a young Marine lieutenant in the office. He is tall and redheaded and in a dark blue uniform, and I keep sneaking looks at him. Especially when he left to make a cellphone call...

1. The Federal government has absolutely no place in this, and no one should make political hay out of a family's tragedy.

2. To my husband and others: If I am *ever* (God forbid!) in such a position, do not do anything to hasten my death. Do not starve me to death or deny me essential care. Maybe do not do anything prolong life other than essential care and whatever is needed for comfort, and please consult our rabbi at every turn, but do not hasten it.


It's the feeding tube thing that's bothering me right now. Because starving someone to death doesn't strike me as a good thing. Ever.

And I really hate that death seems to be default for so many people.

But many, many people have spent a few days on a ventilator and then been weaned off - or not, but still managed decent lives.

Christopher Reeve, for example.

I can't imagine that G-d would ever want us to let someone starve to death, and I am totally frustrated that people I normally consider reasonable don't understand where I come from on that. Why death is the default for so many people I'll never get, and the other thing I don't get is why it seems to be the universal default among atheists! (If I didn't believe I would have a life after death I would want to hold on to life even harder.)

And the thing a lot of people are unwilling to acknowledge is we don't really understand 'persistive vegetative states'. Sometimes people get better after everyone's given up on them. And only G-d knows who will be a Christopher Reeve or a Stephen Hawking--imagine if Stephen Hawking had decided he'd be better off dead!

an only vaguely related tangent.

Not that I'm disagreeing with you in principle, but neither Christopher Reever nor Stephen Hawking are/were in persistive vegetative states.

They are, however, both miracles.

I used to work for a pharmaceutical company that was trying to get a drug for ALS (what Stephen Hawking has) through the FDA. The FDA didn't let it go through on the basis that there wasn't a signfificant enough improvement in lifespan or quality of life from the medication. If I were diagnosed with ALS tomorrow (chas v'shalom), I'd pray to be hit by a truck. Stephen Hawking, admittedly, is a miracle. But he is an exception to the rule that generally means that you've got about 2 years from the date of diagnosis left. And that's not two years of getting your affairs in order... much of that two years is spent unable to move, unable to brush your teeth, unable to communicate. But your mind stays sharp and watches as the rest of you deteriorates.

Like I said, I'm not disagreeing with you in principle. But really, a diagnosis of ALS would be worse than death to me.

Re: an only vaguely related tangent.

I'm aware of the differences in diagnoses, and the exceptionality of both the examples I mentioned. I'd be terrified if I had ALS too, but I don't think I'd pray to be hit by a truck, I'd pray to be given the grace Stephen Hawking had. That's just me, though.

The thing about persistent vegetative states is we really don't know what's going on. It may be a very small percentage of people who do eventually recover, and in fact it is--but I could never live with starving someone to death regardless, especially not given the fact that as long as a person is alive, there is still a chance even if it is very remote.

Re: an only vaguely related tangent.

Like I said, I wasn't arguing with you in principle. You just hit on a disease that I'm passionate about in that I worked every day talking to people who were just hoping for another week of being able to brush their teeth before they ceased being able to swallow or, you know, breathe.

Were I Terri Schiavo, and were I aware of my surroundings, I would not want to live like that. HOWEVER, I would also prefer living to being starved to death.

If I didn't believe I would have a life after death I would want to hold on to life even harder

Curiously, and speaking from an atheist point of view, I've always found comfort in the thought that life is not eternal. Because though I'm a pretty happy person overall (I've had periods of depression, but never for long) the idea eternal life is something absolutely terrifies me. I really, absolutely, don't want it.

Worse still, perhaps, would be a life where I was still mentally alert but stuck in a body which needed constant care, either from family or strangers. I'd rather be unknowing, or dead, than that. So, from that point of view, I hope Terri Schiavo isn't 'in there' in any sense that we would understand it.

I can see what you mean about starving someone to death, but, well, as someone down the thread says, it's a short time of discomfort rather than years of misery.

It was that Swinburne poem you quoted in one of your HP fics, wasn't it? "That no life lives forever..." I can't remember the exact quote, but I found it very moving.

I agree with you. I don't think that removing a feeding tube is the equivalent to turning off a machine. (Though your point about machines is also well-taken).

I'm a little disturbed that issue doesn't seem to be coming up in this debate.

I also wouldn't want a feeding tube removed, and would only want a machine turned off in certain extreme circumstances.

I'm an atheist, and it's not the default for me.

That's comforting to know--I've just run into lots and lots of atheists who are really strongly pro-euthanasia and it boggles my poor little brain.

I'm strongly pro-whatever-the-person-wants. But for myself, I would want to be kept alive to whatever limited degree possible, and I can't really comprehend emotionally the feeling of preferring to be left to die. I'll accept it for those people who tell me that's what they want, because it's their choice and not mine, but I don't 'get it', and I love my own life too much to want to let go of the tiniest bit of it, no matter how minimal.

Actually starvation and dehydration produce euphoria which is quickly followed by coma. I've seen it. It's far more merciful than what she has coming even with the best of care. Over the course of my career I've taken care of a lot people in Terry Schiavo's condition. I've come to the conclusion that if I ever end up in that position, not only do I NOT want a feeding tube, I want someone to put a bullet in my head.

starving someone to death doesn't strike me as a good thing. Ever.

It seems to me that it's the best of several awful choices.

Shall we stipulate that, based on the evidence, there's no there there, as far as Terry Schiavo is concerned? (Here I refer to the CAT scans indicating that her cerebral cortex has degenerated and been replaced by spinal fluid. If there's no cortex, there's no thought, no person.)

Assuming so, then the choices boil down to maintaining an insensate, unaware hulk; permitting that body to expire; or assisting its expiration.

I know what I'd do, but apparently society won't let Old Yeller be human. Even when she no longer is.

The problem with that analogy is that Old Yaller was *rabid*. He was shot not to end (or rather, to prevent) his misery. He was shot because a rabid dog was a deadly danger to others.

Whatever else is going on (and she seems to be breathing on her own, so this doesn't seem likely anyway), she's not a danger to others.

True, she's no danger to others. In that regard, a poor analogy. I was thinking more of whether a quick death is preferable to a slow one, and what it takes to bring each about.

I have a question for you, of a serious information-seeking nature: what constitutes a definition of death under Orthodox Law? Does it differ significantly from a definition under mundane law? Does it overlap, and if so, where?

The reason I ask is, I think, obvious -- is this body alive or dead? Is the person whose body this is/was, alive or dead? If the latter, what should we do with the body? Keep it alive, like the chicken heart tissue maintained for 32 years by Dr. Alexis Carrel?

My answer to the last question is that it must be a personal decision. If Terry Schiavo's expressed desire was not to be maintained by artificial means, then the tube should go. Several competent courts have found that this is the case, and that's my basis for supporting the withdrawal.

Had the courts found that she had NOT expressed such a desire, I would be advocating for her body to be placed in the care of her parents. But they seem not to be capable of reason, nor acceptance of the medical facts. (The advocates they have chosen, starting with Randall Terry and moving to radical Catholics, reinforces this view.)

I ask, is there a good solution? I only see three, and the one currently being followed seems the least hurtful and most respectful of them. But I'm open to the idea that I've overlooked something.