Thursday, June 16, 2005

Didion Reviews Schiavo Case

Joan Didion has an excellent retrospective on the Terri Schiavo case, clearly laying out the facts and speculating on the motivations of the different groups pulled into the battle.

Something important she fails to point out is how groups on both sides were primed to go off as soon as a well-publicized case like this appeared. Anti-euthanasia groups, seeing how euthanasia legalization seems to be gaining ground and expecting this to continue, jumped on it on the assumption that it was the first major assault of the anticipated war over euthanasia. On the pro-euthanasia side, it appeared to be viewed as similarly pivotal, and as a tremendous chance to gain public sympathy for their cause given the massive media attention.

The problem was that the Schiavo case was not the perfect one for either side's public argument. Terri was a little too incapacitated for the anti-euthanasia side -- someone more visibly functional would have been easier for the undecided to sympathize with. For the euthanasia advocates, the case was simply not airtight enough. There were too many uncertainties surrounding the history of Terri's medical condition and questions about her husband's behavior and interests, and there was the added twist of her parents being willing to take over her care. Ideally for them, there would be no ambiguities, and a stark choice between only euthanasia or indefinite minimal hospice care as her possible futures.

Didion's piece also came out too early to incorporate the results of Terri's autopsy, although as Andrea Harris ably points out, they are ultimately irrelevant in judging the morality of the decision.


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