May 01, 2006

Wolpe on Schiavo

In a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer AJOB's Paul Root Wolpe writes this:
Theresa Schiavo's body was kept alive for 15 years in a condition that simply did not exist before the mid-20th century. Her brain was badly damaged, and all higher function had been lost, yet her body functioned, she breathed without mechanical aid, her body responded to some stimuli, and she vocalized and moved. When Michael Schiavo looked upon his wife, he saw a body devoid of the mind and personality that made Terri a person, and he felt an obligation to end an existence he was sure she would not want. When the Schindlers looked upon their daughter, they saw a suffering child, warm-blooded and moving, whom they wanted to protect and safeguard as parents.

The real truth - the one hidden in the invective and hostility that infected so much of the debate over the case - is that both sides were right. Terri Schiavo found herself in a medical limbo that left her person and nonperson, severely damaged yet not really suffering, awake and moving yet not perceiving or feeling. That is precisely what makes these cases so tragic.

I once heard an antiabortion spokesman say that the struggle over abortion was a fight for the soul of America. And so it is, but not in the way she meant. The health of America's soul depends not on the specific outcome of these debates, but on how we conduct them. Medical science is going to keep throwing these dilemmas our way, and none of them will have simple answers. If we conduct them without bitterness, assuming our opponents' good faith, and in a spirit of working toward solutions, perhaps it won't be quite so hard to die in America.

Day two of the conference, and the small protest, are being covered basically everywhere, which is fitting - after all this is the anniversary conference for a Center that expanded bioethics' reach into public discussion tenfold.

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