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February 25, 2005

John Grogan | Second thoughts on Terri Schiavo: A Newspaper Columnist Changes His Mind

Topics: Terri Schiavo's Life Counts

I don't usually just post an entire newspaper column, instead, like most bloggers, I include some of it and the rest is my own comment about the article. However, in the case of Mr Grogan's article today in the Philadelphia Daily News, I'm making an exception - it's that important. I appreciate his honest and heart-felt assessment of Terri's and her parent's plight, and also his logic. I enjoyed it so much that I interupted my writing of this post, and telephoned him to tell him how much I deeply appreciated his column. I think that you should to, or at least email him. He's probably a busy guy later in the day when you'll be reading this. Besides, I had to leave a message on voicemail.

Sometimes even newspaper columnists change their minds.

In the matter of Terri Schiavo, the permanently brain-damaged former suburban Philadelphia woman caught in a life-and-death tug-of-war, this columnist has changed his.

I no longer so blithely believe Schiavo's feeding tubes should be pulled and her life allowed to end. I'm no longer so sure her parents do not deserve a say in their daughter's future. I no longer am totally comfortable assuming her husband, Michael, who now has two children by another woman, is acting unselfishly.

That's not to say I have changed my opinion about the right of all of us to die with dignity when life has lost all meaning. But for Terri Schiavo, who lingers in a Florida nursing home, the devil is in the details, uncomfortable details that raise sticky moral dilemmas.

Detail 1: Terry Schiavo is not dying. She is not being kept alive artificially. Her heart beats and lungs breathe without help. She cannot swallow food or water. Once the feeding tube is removed, she would slowly starve to death over days or weeks.

Detail 2: Schiavo is not comatose. Her eyes open, and she sometimes responds to stimuli. Doctors say there is no brain activity and her responses are simply reflexive. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, want to believe otherwise.

Unanswered questions

Detail 3: The Schindlers think their daughter could benefit from physical therapy and might someday swallow on her own, but her husband, as her legal guardian, reportedly will not allow it. Which leads to an equally uncomfortable question: If Schiavo merely required spoon feeding instead of tube feeding, would anyone seriously be arguing to withhold food and water? Does not every human, no matter how incapacitated, deserve sustenance?

Detail 4: Unproven allegations that Schiavo might have suffered physical trauma immediately before her heart stopped for several minutes in 1990, leading to brain damage, have not been fully investigated. The Schindlers have long suggested their son-in-law strangled their daughter; Michael Schiavo's lawyer says the abuse allegations have never been substantiated. Before pulling the plug on this woman, don't these questions need to be fully answered?

The abuse allegations against Michael Schiavo may be nothing but scurrilous rumor spread to damage his credibility. But what if there is even a tiny chance he is guilty of abuse? Should such a person be in a position to decide this life-and-death issue?

Last month, I wrote that Michael Schiavo's wish should be granted and his wife allowed to die rather than suffer for years in what the courts have deemed a "persistent vegetative state." I still believe Terri Schiavo, if she were aware today, would instruct us to not make her linger on like this.

Undisputed devotion

But she is not aware and left no written directives. So we are left to guess her wishes. Last month, I said we could look inside our own hearts and know what she would want. Today, with the latest stay barring the removal of the feeding tube set to expire in hours, I am less confident making such assumptions.

Who best to decide? In the murky mess that this case has become, we are left with one unwavering truth: Over the last seven years of fighting, Terri Schiavo's parents have proved themselves nothing if not fiercely loyal, utterly committed parents. They might be misguided. They might be in denial. But no one can argue their devotion. They have not given up. They have not stopped caring. They have not stopped loving. Who are we, as a society, to tell them they must?

Clearly, Schiavo's husband has moved on to a new life, and who can blame him? It's been 15 long years. But parents cannot move on. Parents cannot give up. Their child will always be the precious gift they brought into the world.

If the Schindlers want to dedicate the rest of their lives and resources to caring for their brain-damaged daughter, if they want to shower her with attention and affection she likely will never recognize, who among us will tell them they cannot?

It won't be me.

Contact John Grogan at 610-313-8132 or Read his recent work at

Cross posted on BlogsforTerri

Posted by Hyscience at February 25, 2005 9:15 AM

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