Tags: America's | Joan | Arc

America's Joan of Arc

Wednesday, 06 April 2005 12:00 AM

In the mid-1400s, the Maid of Orleans, a young French girl who felt she had heard from God, was publicly burned at the stake after being found guilty of heresy. And now a beautiful young woman named Terri Schiavo has been publicly and slowly executed in America on charges that amount to hearsay.

I suspect that, in years to come, people looking back will feel the same sorrow and disbelief at Terri's death as they felt for young Joan's, centuries ago. Both deaths were incomprehensible and unforgivable.

Yes, I know there are plenty of arguments supporting the actions that have been taken by judges and courts and her husband, Michael. And, according to polls, the general public bought into the arguments that the judges and Michael put forth.

They believed that (a) Terri Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for almost 15 years and (b) that as a young woman she professed she would not want to be kept alive artificially if she ever found herself in such a state. Based on those two assumptions, people believe the courts ruled that "her wishes" should be honored and all life support removed.

But, people, there are serious questions that have never really been answered.

Serious question number one: Did Terri ever actually express such a firm desire, and would she have held to it through the last 15 years? Sadly and most tellingly, there is no solid evidence to support either proposition. Would a death penalty (which is what this was) be assessed against anyone on just hearsay, 15-year-old statements?

And has no judge taken into account the fact that even Terri's husband, Michael, neglected to mention this "wish" until eight years had passed after her hospitalization? If he was so certain that his wife wouldn't have wanted to exist in such a limited condition, why did he never bring it up until after he had had two children with another woman? Did it slip his mind until then?

And even if she made a statement like that at the age of 22 or so, do we not all make statements when we're young that we rethink as we get older? Shouldn't Terri Schiavo have been given some benefit of that doubt?

Finally on that point, even if she devoutly wished not to be kept alive by "artificial means," do food and water qualify as "artificial"? If so, each of us is on artificial life support already. Remove that, and any of us will die a long death, just as Terri did.

Could she really have intended or decreed: "If I ever get to where I can't feed myself or speak or do anything apparently worthwhile, please starve me to death and give me no water so that I can die slowly over a two week period, OK? By the way, please do it on television so the world can watch and it can be as painful and agonizing for my parents as possible."

Does anybody really believe Terri Schiavo could have wished this?

Serious question number two: Was she really in a persistent vegetative state? None of us who saw her face light up with an apparent smile as her mother or dad spoke to her can truly believe that this was just a "reflex." Reflexes don't convey emotions. Over thirty trained physicians, including a Nobel Prize nominee who visited and spent ten hours with her, testified to their belief that she did have a measure of intelligence and awareness of her surroundings and her loved ones.

And a final serious question: Why did the courts disregard and disobey the order from the president and both houses of Congress to do a de novo review of the case – which means going back to the beginning and reviewing all the facts, many of which the judges had not allowed to be brought into evidence?

There were things worth serious review, such as the report that the original paramedics responding didn't like what they saw and called the police, and that when the police came, they first thought they were looking at an attempted homicide. Only after being told that young Terri was bulimic and had been starving herself did a doctor do a blood test and declare that a potassium imbalance might have brought on her heart attack. Where did the back and leg fractures come from that X-rays discovered some two years later?

For me, there's one last question, less serious to the body politic, but one I just have to ask: If Michael and his right-to-die lawyer believed that Terri was absolutely brain dead, with only spinal fluid where a cortex used to be, why not abandon the legalisms? Why not release her to the loving care of her parents, who just wanted to cherish and support their daughter and whatever life was still hers to live? If Michael believed she'd been "dead" for years, why not just yield custody and end her parents' agony over Terri's basic physical safety and comfort?

Well, it's now decided and done. Joan of Arc's ashes were scattered over 500 years ago, and now Terri Schiavo will enter the pages of history along with her sister in suffering. What is it the Bible said long before either was legally put to death? "The letter of the law killeth, but the spirit giveth life."


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In the mid-1400s, the Maid of Orleans, a young French girl who felt she had heard from God, was publicly burned at the stake after being found guilty of heresy.And now a beautiful young woman named Terri Schiavo has been publicly and slowly executed in America on charges...
Wednesday, 06 April 2005 12:00 AM
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