March 22, 2005

Other: About Schavio Pt. I

Terri Schiavo is a very special case.
We know this, because our TVs tell us so.

Actually, the only reason that Ms. Schiavo has suddenly received this much attention is that the Republican Party in the United States wants to reestablish support of the Conservative Christians, whom they believe will support their position. They feel they have to, because they haven't been living up to their promises, so that group believes. After all, he hasn't optlawed abortion (yet) or amended the Constitution of the United States to ban Gay Marriage (yet) and he tried straddling the fence with stem cell research, all promises to the religous right during his last campaign.

So the President flew back to Washington to personally sign the insta-bill that appeared in congress, the sole purpose of its existence being to let Ms. Schiavos parents appeal to a different court, this time in Atlanta. He didn't need to fly - it actually would have been quicker if he hadn't. A fax with the Presidents signature would have been binding, but that doesn't make for good TV. So.

Here's the story: Terri Schiavo has been in a near-vegetative state for fifteen years. She can breathe on her own, but needs a feeding tube. Her mind, medically speaking, has rotted away: there are literally holes in her brain. She was undergoing "fertility services" in 1989 when she had an adverse reaction and her heart stopped. In the several minutes it took for help to arrive, anoxia set in, irreperably damaging her brain, and she slipped into a coma. She was intubated and brought to a hospital. Without this emergency medical intervention, she would have died within the hour.

Her husband has requested that she be taken off of life support, ie. the feeding tube to be removed. Not a quick of painless death, assuming none of the nurses decide to "snow" her under, and it could take as long as two weeks for her body to die.

In 2003, a court judge appointed a Guardian Ad Litem to the case. What this person does is examine and evaluate what the person in questions intentions might be or might have been, had she the ability to understand or communicate them: Ms. Schaivo can do neither. The Guardian found that both the husband and parents of Ms. Schiavo did exemplary work in trying to restore her state of mind. After two and a half months of hospital stay (she was no longer in a coma but had not regained consiousness) and four more in non-response to "aggressive" therapy, the family (parents and husband) tried home care next, staying with her in shifts at her parents house. Burnout set in after three weeks. Her husband then took her to California where she received an experimental "thalamic stimulator" inserted into her brain. After several more months of therapy, and with no response, they returned to Florida.

Through all of this, every report came back negative. The only responses she had were reactive, not cognitive. The was alive, yes, but there was no evedence that she could think, and no pattern of communication. For three more years, with her husband as her guardian, she was in a 24-hour professional care facility where the administrator remembered him as being tremendously demanding in the level of care his wife received.

In 1994, Ms. Schaivo contracted a urinary infection. Her husband (in consultation with her doctor) decided not to treat it, and added a "do not resuscitate" order to her care. The care facility challenged this, and he dropped the order and she was treated.

Ms. Schavios parents tried to remove her husband as legal guardian, a case that was dismissed with prejudice, meaning a case that is "dismissed with good cause", and it is not allowed to be retried in that jurisdiction.

In 1997, the husband decided to request that the feeding tube be removed. A Guardian Ad Litem was appointed, who concluded that though all indications were that Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state (no chance of improvement), her mother claimed she made "special responses", never witnessed or recorded by others, and as her husband stood to gain $700,000 his argument was not compelling enough for the tube to be removed.

One problem: he had offered to divest himself of all claim to that money, and the Guardian neglected to mention this fact in his decision. One other problem: several other factual and chronological errors were found in the report. That Guardian Ad Litem was later removed.

Here's where it gets really, really ugly.
I mean REALLY ugly.
You've been warned.

In 2000, a judge hearing the case ruled life support to be terminated. The family demanded this reversed, claiming the husband was not only inadiquate as guardian, but had cheated on his wife while she was in the care facilities. In actual fact, the family had encouraged him to begin dating again back in 1993. In turn, the husbands brother and brothers wife claimed that, after two seperate funerals, Ms. Schiavo told them that she would NOT wish to be kept alive without a fully functioning brain.

During the trial, the family mambers, while agreeing that she was in a persistent vegetative state, described the lengths they would go through to keep her alive:

What if she got diabetes, not an uncommon thing in inactive people, and contracted gangrene? Then they would amputate the limbs; all of them in necessary.

What if she had heart disease? They'd have open heart surgery performed.

What if she had told you she wanted to die? They'd keep her alive anyways.

The family lost the case, and the feeding tube was clamped shut in April, 2001. Two days later, the family filed (and received) an injunction. Another review happened, which the family lost. The feeding tube to be clamped again that October. The family filed another injunction, and a panel of five experts (two from each side, one from the court) with "excellent pedegrees of medical trraining" examined, recorded, and reported on Ms. Schiavos status.

The representatives for the family provided mostly anecdotal, rather than scientific, evidence. The tube was clamped again in October 2003. Bush stopped that with special session of the legeslature, only this time it was Jeb, the Governor of Florida. He signed a new law stating that if the person in the persistent vegetative state can swallow food, they cannot be removed from life support.

Then the family changed their mind about Ms. Schiavos condition, and have stated they would NOT have kept her alive if the conditions mentioned in the previous trial occured. They insisted that there was hope for her recovery, that they have had medical professionals tell them just that.

I have no doubt that there are people telling them that they can "fix" her. Special chants, creams, super-secret medical procedures from Atlantis, burning herbs, "smudging", and (of course) lots and lots of prayer have probably all been offered as hope to this family. If I hear another person claim that pseudoscience doesn't hurt anyone, I'm going to break their fucking legs.

And let's not forget our favorite tin hat brigade.

The political side is up tomorrow.


posted by Thursday at 9:05 pm


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