Starving to Death? The Calculated Inflammatory Rhetoric of the Christian Right

Ken AshfordAssisited Suicide/Schiavo, Godstuff, Health CareLeave a Comment

As one might expect, the American Journal of Bioethics is following the Schiavo case closely. 

One recent bioethicist/commentator took to task those who like to insult the hospice industry, under the false assumption that caring nurses and doctors would allow Terri Schiavo to experience pain and discomfort.  She writes:

One of the more disturbing aspects of the political rhetoric is the hyperbole of the politicians and the Schindlers (Terri’s parents) talking about how Michael is intent on “starving” Terri to death, as if she were a person who was totally healthy and fully functional. Is it possible that none of these persons have ever witnessed a hospice death? And hospice organizations have explained time and time again that someone at the end-of-life doesn’t experience thirst and hunger in the same fashion that healthy individuals do. The language the politicians and the Schindlers are using is intended to provoke and inflame.

What also puzzles me is that these devout Christians seem to be ignoring the fact that, according to the Christian doctrine, death is not the ultimate evil, but eternal damnation is; to allow Terri to die would be to allow her to join with God in eternal life. Perhaps the Schindlers and the politicians don’t really believe in an afterlife? But this case is no longer about Terri’s wishes, or her husband attempting to honor her wishes, or a family dispute. It has become a political battle reflecting the torn state of the nation, about “being right and looking good” and who has control.

Linda Glenn (emphasis added).

And then there is this from the New York Times:

To many people, death by removing a feeding tube brings to mind the agony of starvation. But medical experts say that the process of dying that begins when food and fluids cease is relatively straightforward, and can cause little discomfort.

"From the data that is available, it is not a horrific thing at all," said Dr. Linda Emanuel, the founder of the Education for Physicians in End-of-Life Care Project at Northwestern University.

In fact, declining food and water is a common way that terminally ill patients end their lives, because it is less painful than violent suicide and requires no help from doctors.

Terri Schiavo, who is in a persistent vegetative state, is "probably not experiencing anything at all subjectively," said Dr. Emanuel, and so the question of discomfort, from a scientific point of view, is not in dispute.

So before we “assume” that Terri will suffer and starve, let’s make sure that is, in fact, true.  After all, if you claim to care about her, don’t we at least owe it to become well-informed ABOUT her fate?