Another situation similar to that of my sister, Terri Schiavo, made headlines not too long ago. In West Palm Beach, Florida, Raymond Weber asked the court to dehydrate his disabled wife, Karen, to death.
The reports in mainstream media made it out to be just another case of a husband looking out for the "best interests" of his spouse. And just as in Terri's case, Raymond Weber was asking the government to deliberately kill his wife who was not dying. In fact, she was guilty of nothing more than having difficulty swallowing and therefore needing help, in the form of a feeding tube, to eat.
Not surprisingly, in a story by the AP, was a quote from the husband's attorney who so touchingly referred to his client's brain-injured wife as a "vegetable," thus offending the tens of thousands of people and their families who do live with a profound brain injury.
The reporter also wrote that the decision whether Karen should live or die will depend upon whether or not a committee finds her "competent" to go on living. Yes, that is correct, competent enough to live. I guess passing an IQ test will be next.
Factors such as what is being taught in our medical schools, the breakdown of our health care system, the powerful influence of assisted suicide organizations, and the propaganda of our mainstream media have taken their toll.
As a result, the physically and mentally "inferior" are being denied the most basic care—food and water—in our nation's medical facilities every day. (Thank goodness we have laws making it a felony if we do the same to an animal, although I would expect there would be a greater outcry if it were the family pets at risk.)
Equally as disturbing is the fact that our politicians ignore this issue and because of it are failing in one of the most important responsibilities they have as leaders—to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Perhaps our general public doesn't have a clue as to how widespread this problem is in our nation today. This ignorance is in large part because of a stealth and powerful lobby who support patient dehydration based on quality of life judgments. This has slowly but surely changed our laws regarding food and water. Nutrition and hydration through a feeding tube, once considered basic care, are now recognized as "artificial nutrition and hydration"—and therefore a form of "medical treatment."
Because of this, people have the right (this now includes hospital ethics committees under the banner of "futile care") to refuse medical treatment (food and water via feeding tube) either for themselves or for others, which is often based on "best interest" scenarios. Denying the disabled food and water has become a routine part of medicine that only becomes an issue when family disagrees, as in the case of Karen Weber and my sister Terri.
If you need proof, this New York Times column by Jane Brody quotes Judith Schwarz, a registered nurse and clinical coordinator for "Compassion & Choices" of New York as saying: "1.3 million people die each year in American hospitals as ‘a consequence of someone's decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment.'"
If this is accurate, these numbers are staggering. Although there are no statistics available to indicate exactly how many of these 1.3 million are simply being starved and dehydrated to death because a "loved one" doesn't feel like taking on the "burden" of caring for these individuals, it is safe to say that dehydrating the disabled to death is happening every day in our country—in fact thousands of times daily, if the figures are to be believed. During Terri's battle, Michael Schiavo's attorney admitted that his effort to kill my sister by denying her food and hydration is a widely practiced "medical treatment."
How have we sunk so far as a nation to become so desensitized and disconnected to the value and dignity of our most vulnerable, that dehydrating the disabled to death has become about as ordinary as buying a loaf of bread?
Someone once said that when your life becomes difficult, change your life, not your morals. Faced with difficult life choices today, too many have become too comfortable acting immorally.
Bobby Schindler is the brother of Terri Schiavo and has been working with the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, Center for Health Care Ethics in St. Petersburg, FL.
He regularly hosts the talk radio show "America's Lifeline" on Saturdays at 3:00pm on WGUL in Tampa. Click here for further info on how to listen live via the internet.
Contact Bobby at [email protected]
This article originally appeared at Christianity.com on June 13, 2008.