I’m very upset by all this uproar over the Schiavo case, in so many ways. I’ve blogged a little of my more political upset over on Ratiocination, but here I want to give vent to some more visceral, emotional feelings.
I’ve had the misfortune to spend a fair amount of time up-close-and-personal with hard medical decisions. I’ve been in the situation of choosing between gruesome medical procedures with some unknown probability of survival or an easier, but extremely short-term, option. So far, I’ve chosen to be poisoned, made sterile, cut open, broken and reassembled, all on the gamble that I’d get to live a longer, somewhat healthy life. But they were my choices, and making them hasn’t always been easy. In exchange for some things I wanted, I’ve had to give up other things that were dear to me. I carry those losses, and they still ache. So, I’ve been able to completely understand cancer patients who make the other choice, and stop treatment. They are not wrong. I get it. They made different choices. It’s the choices we make that define who we are.
And, had I been in the position of my friend Sharon, who spent all the years that I knew her holding her breast cancer at bay, only to have it finally break its chains and ravage her body, I’d want the option to do as she did: die peacefully at home, surrounded by my nearest and dearest. Her passing was one of the most profound moments in my life, wrapping together tragedy and honor and love and so many other things that make up the mystery of life, and death.
So, it’s not just that the Schiavo case snags me because I’ve had a feeding tube myself lately. It’s that it connects with my all-too-clear understanding that decisions about how we live, what we do and don’t do, and how we die, are profoundly personal, and transcendently meaningful. This is an area where we should tread with humility, because the challenges are immense, and every situation unique and tragic in its own way. If ever there is a situation to reach deeply for your best behavior, your greatest respect for others, charity, forgiveness, honesty, and bravery, your highest aspirations for personal character, it is in those times. I am not a church-goer, but I do believe that it is in moments like these that we approach something holy.
Which is why I find the whole circus around Terri Schiavo obscene, to the point of nausea. The hordes of insincere, hypocritical exploiters of this personal tragedy make me want to cry. I hate to see this profound, holy, and tragic family situation grabbed for use in political or religious and any other agenda. That so many are willfully distorting or ignoring the details of the situation just compounds the crime. It is all just so, so wrong.
And what’s to keep them out of my life? Where does it stop? I don’t really believe that, had Terri left an advanced directive, it would have gone uncontested, or that the court’s rulings would mean any more to her parents than the existing ones. And if Congress can butt in over the wishes of her husband, can I trust the system to let Kimberly make decisions for me, if I can’t make my own? I’ve been too close to the medical edge for these to just be abstract concerns. The stunts in Washington this weekend are really chilling.
So, much as I wish I could just tune it all out, I can’t stop paying attention. But I do wish it would all go away.