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Randi on Schiavo
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Skeptic James Randi weighs in on the whole Terry Schiavo affair.

Terri Schiavo died long ago, if living involves being conscious — which requires a cerebral cortex; she had none. Her reactions to light, movement, and sound, were attributable to simple reflexive brain stem and forebrain functions, not to cognitive processes. According to neurologists, such reflexive activities are neither conscious nor signs of awareness. Without cognition, there is no awareness.

Randi states this with more certitude than I can muster. What about children who are born severely retarded? Or severely autistic? There are children with very limited to nearly nonexistent responsiveness to stimuli. Do we judge them legally dead?

I'm not arguing that Schiavo was living a quality life before she was starved to death (which I still think is an absurd and horrifying way for the state to put her to death). I'm saying I don't want the state making that judgement. And if they absolutely have to, when confronted with loved ones who can't decide and without clear instructions to the contrary, they should always err on protecting the sanctity of life, since they should not be in the business of determining quality of life.

Terri Schiavo was also kept "alive" by heroic means, for fifteen years. Her nutrients were cut off, and her body died.

I don't see nutrients as "heroic". Others here have quibbled with the use of the word "fundamental" that I used when referring to her care, but good grief, I think it's a pretty extreme view that a feeding tube is a "heroic" measure.

His basic point is that the parents were wishing for more than was there, and were hoping irrationally for a recovery that wasn't going to come. I'm generally loathe for people to believe comfortable untruths, but I also understand the emotions involved here. From a legal perspective, though, I just don't see how starving her to death was the societal definition of "least harm". There was no harm to the public in terms of cost, if they had just let the parents pay for care. And all the talk of how Terry "would not have wanted to live like this" is fairly irrelevant if we've decided that she's not really alive anyway, and oblivious to her current state. If she's already dead, then what would she care? Seems like there's much less harm in keeping her alive than if there is even a shred of cognition left in her and/or removing the feeding tube caused pain in what was left of her.

I'm sure we could do CAT scans and autopsies on severely mentally disabled people and determine that many of their cerebral cortices were far below normal standards, damaged or defunct. Is that license for relatives to deny care? Stephen Hawking wouldn't likely be able to make a trip to the supermarket and whip himself up dinner, would he? So is feeding him "heroic" care?

Ah well...this debate isn't going to resolve anytime soon. And it will go on for the next Schiavo. But you know my position, ad nauseum.

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