After over a decade of being kept alive with technology — possibly against her will — Terri Schiavo is dead. I’d like to be able to say that she died with dignity but, unfortunately, the legalistic, religious and hypocritical furor surrounding her death left very little room for anything dignified.
I’ve been thinking about how to think about the events surrounding Mrs. Schiavo’s death, which provide quite a bit to ponder. Mainly, I’ve been wondering about who, of all involved, can be considered to be acting morally. One possible way of examining this is to subject the people involved into hypothetical situations and see where it takes you.
Suppose I’m a District Attorney. Based on the suggestion that Mrs. Schiavo requested not to be kept alive artificially, suppose I accuse her family of sustained and repeated torture of their daughter, taking calculated and extreme measures to artificially maintain what I (as DA) call “an unpleasant, hopeless existence” in accordance with their own wishes and opposed to hers.
Granted, this is a hypothetical situation about law, not morality, but let’s see where it takes us. As I see it, the family has only two possible legal defenses against such a charge.
The first defense would be to say that the claim that Mrs. Schiavo requested not to be kept alive artificially is false. Unfortunately for the family, regardless of whether or not you personally believe that Mrs. Schiavo truly wished to avoid being kept alive by machines, the court system believes this past all point of appeal. So, from a legal standpoint, this defense would not keep the family out of jail for torture.
The only other defense the family could mount against a torture charge is that Mrs. Schiavo is not aware enough to register pain or pleasure and, therefore, cannot be truly tortured. Whether or not this defense would keep the family out of jail isn’t that relevant to me. What matters is that, to even mount such a defense, the family would have to embrace the idea that they have been fighting against.
To me, this indicates that the family doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Further, it suggests their moral stance is on fairly shaky ground as well.