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On the side of life

I’m sick at reading of the political maneuvers to keep in place Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube today. Now that the U.S. Congress and Senate have weighed in, gone are all claims to respect either the legal process or the tremendous difficulty with which we make end-of-life decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. Instead, it’s now all about politics. First Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert scolded Democrats for not supporting a bill that would require federal review of cases in which patients leave no advance directive. They said in a joint statment that with Schiavo “helpless in Florida, one day away from the unthinkable and unforgivable, the Senate Democrats refused to join Republicans to act on her behalf.” Obviously, Schiavo’s best interests are at their heart.

Delay and Hastert would have us believe that it is “unthinkable and unforgivable” to allow Michael Schiavo to make the kind of decision that is made over and over, thousands of times per year, by people who are legally empowered to make decisions on behalf of their loved ones. It strikes me as far more unforgivable to act as if a court ruling had not, in fact, established that that Michael Schiavo’s decision to remove Terri Schiavo’s life support was consonant with her own wishes, and to pretend that there remains any medical uncertainty about Terri Schiavo’s prognosis. Far more unforgivable to pretend that Delay and Hastert are not looking to score points with pro-life conservatives.

Next, Bill Frist forgets entirely that he is in fact a physician and suggests that what we really need is to hear from Terri Schiavo herself:

Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the Senate majority leader, issued a statement saying that the woman, Terri Schiavo, and her husband, Michael, were being invited to testify in a Congressional inquiry into the matter later this month.

The statement pointed out that Federal law protects witnesses called before Congress “from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness’s attendance or testimony.”

The maneuver is the latest step by lawmakers determined to keep Ms. Schiavo alive to prevent her feeding tube from being disconnected, scheduled for 1 p.m. today.

“The Senate and House remain dedicated to saving Terry Schiavo’s life,” Mr. Frist said in the statement. He said they were requesting the Schiavos’ presence at a hearing on March 28. “The purpose of the hearing is to review health care policies and practices relevant to the care of nonambulatory persons such as Mrs. Schiavo.”

He should be embarrassed. Testimony from Terri Schiavo? “Nonambulatory persons?” That must be one of the most disingenuous statements I’ve ever read. Schiavo is nonambulatory because her cerebral cortex is gone, and with it far more than her ability to move around. As Ampersand writes in a very good post (with an excellent thread of comments, too):

The conclusion the court came to is that, based on medical testimony and Terri’s CAT scan, her cerebral cortex has basically turned to liquid. The cerebral cortex is the seat of all our higher brain functions. Without a cerebral cortex, it is impossible for a human being to experience thought, emotions, consciousness, pain, pleasure, or anything at all; nor, barring a miracle, is it possible for a patient lacking a cerebral cortex to recover.

Any claim Frist might make to be a medical authority, or even a thoughtful arbiter of medical science, should be dismissed on the spot. After all, despite being The Senate Doctor, Frist couldn’t say with any certainty that AIDS isn’t transmissible through sweat.

[ Update: I’ve written more about this issue. ]