America's Lost Hope
by Djana Milton
Terri Schiavo, a woman who
collapsed at 26 and suffered severe brain damage, is dead because
her husband and our justice system determined that her life wasn't
Many of us never seriously
contemplate our own deaths, especially at such a young age.
I've often said I wouldn't want to live the way Terri lived,
but such remarks are emotionally-charged and don't necessarily
reflect my wishes.
I will state for the record
that I don't want to be unplugged from life support based on
my reaction to someone else's condition. I don't necessarily
want to remain on life support for the long term, either. The
decision requires careful reflection on the physical effect the
condition would have on me, and the emotional and financial effects
it would have on my family. It should not be made lightly or
While it's possible that Terri
thought about comas, brain damage and tubes and knew precisely
what she wanted if something were to happen, she obviously didn't
feel strongly enough to write it down. Consequently, her fate
rested on a husband so profoundly devoted to her that he fathered
two children with a woman he'd been seeing for years as she lay
bed-ridden. Would Terri have wanted her husband to get on with
his life? Perhaps, but I doubt she thought his "closure"
would come at the expense of her life.
The fight to kill Terri has
been a low mark for the American justice system. We've arrived
at a point where we feel empowered to decide whose life is worthy
and whose is not. Was it OK to kill Terri because she couldn't
feed herself or because of the degree of brain damage? What
if her brain had been less damaged, but she still couldn't feed
herself? What if she could feed herself but was equally brain-damaged?
These questions lead us down
a slippery slope as we decide who lives and who dies. Arbitrary
determinations about worthiness are dangerous. I've read article
after article about Terri's "vegetative state." Dehumanizing
and convenient. When we compare a person to a plant, it's much
easier to treat them as a plant. Ending a life becomes nothing
more than ripping its sustaining roots from the ground.
The biggest atrocity in this
tragic case is how Terri Schiavo was killed. In many states,
criminals who've committed horrendous crimes no longer swing
from the gallows. That form of capital punishment has been deemed
unnecessarily cruel. In Terri's case, however, slow starvation
wasn't considered unnecessarily cruel. Her family - those who
loved her and wanted her to live even though she couldn't return
that love - stood vigil for days as she faded away.
Ironically, had Terri been sentenced to death for a crime, she'd
have been spared a "cruel and unusual" death. Her
execution would have been swift. Instead, she was forced to
suffer a slow death. I don't believe Michael Schiavo could have
truly loved his wife and allowed her to starve to death at the
same time. It is not humanly possible.
Before his own recent death,
Pope John Paul II called America a culture of death. Since Terri
Schiavo's case entered the American consciousness, we have witnessed
the fervor with which her husband, the American Civil Liberties
Union and much of the American media advocated for her death.
The Pope's words ring loudly, clearly and true.
America has always been a beacon
of light for the rest of the world, a nation that values life
above all else and guarantees the pursuit of that life. Yet
with each innocent one ended in the battle to kill the weak and
voiceless, we move farther away from the light that shines for
the rest of the world.
One need only look to history
to understand that the darkness awaiting our country on its current
path will prove difficult, if not impossible, to escape.
Djana Milton is a member of
the national advisory council of the black leadership network
Project 21. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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