In Pinellas Park, Fla., the feeding machine keeping 39-year-old Terri Schiavo alive has finally been unplugged. It’s time for everyone else, including her parents and Gov. Jeb Bush, to get out of the way – and let her die in peace.

In a way, you can blame our Founding Fathers. You have to admit, they weren’t perfect. Yes, they gave us the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yes, they soon added the rights to privacy, free speech and owning a gun.

There’s only one thing they forgot to articulate: the right for all Americans to die with dignity. And that results in a lot of confusion, especially for people like Terri Schiavo.

This poor woman is little more than a vegetable. For the last 13 years, ever since suffering a heart attack in February 1990, she’s been brain dead: unable to talk, eat, walk, communicate, get out of bed or control her bodily functions. Doctors say she’s essentially unconscious and can’t even think. She’s still alive only because, for all those 13 years, she’s been connected to a feeding tube.

This isn’t real life. This is artificial life, little more than a laboratory experiment. Let’s see, Dr. Frankenstein, how long can we keep this puppy breathing?

I’ve never met one person, young or old, who wants to end up treated like her: a lump of unthinking, unfeeling flesh, with no quality of life, hooked up to a machine. Please, most people say, don’t keep me artificially alive. Once it’s clear I can’t make it without the machine, unplug it and let me die in peace.

The truth is, an artificially prolonged life is not what Terri Schiavo wanted, either. Even though she never signed a living will, her husband Michael says that he and his wife often discussed what might happen if one of them had a serious accident. Both agreed they did not want to be kept alive by machine.

After several months of life support, and after doctors told him Terri would never recover, Michael asked that her feeding apparatus be unplugged, so she could die in peace. But for 13 years, neither Michael nor Terri would get their wish – only because of the obstinacy of her parents.

Terri’s parents refused to believe her husband or her doctors. With no supporting medical evidence, they insisted their daughter would eventually recover. They spent the last 13 years in courts, before over 20 trial and appellate judges, arguing that her daughter be kept live by machine and that her husband had no right to ask that her feeding machine be unplugged.

They lost every single case. Not one judge agreed with them. This week, their trail or trials ran out. Florida’s top appeals court refused to intervene – and Terri Schiavo was finally unhooked from her feeding tube. She is expected to die, mercifully, within a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, the sad tale still doesn’t end there. The Schiavo parents insist they will continue their legal battles. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has promised to intervene. And Operation Rescue and other conservative Christian groups have jumped into the case, accusing doctors and Michael Schiavo of “mercy killing.”

Even with the best of intentions, they are all misguided. Her parents are in denial that their daughter, in effect, died 13 years ago. Gov. Bush is simply pandering to her parents by trying to second-guess platoons of doctors and judges. And religious groups, and the media, are dead wrong in calling this a “mercy killing.”

This is no mercy killing. A mercy killing is murder. A mercy killing is when someone cries out and says: “I’m in pain. Please shoot me and put me out of my misery.” There’s a big difference in this case.

Terri Schiavo can’t talk. She can’t even think. She is only alive because she was hooked up to a feeding machine. By unplugging that machine, doctors are not killing her. They are letting her exercise the last right any of us have on earth: the right to die by natural causes. Now, hopefully, she will have that chance.

There’s a lesson here for all of us: Leave no doubt that we don’t want to be kept artificially alive. Put it in writing. Go online or to any attorney. Sign a living will today. It’s the only way to protect our families and guarantee ourselves the right to die with dignity.

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