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Throughout his decade-long crusade to condemn Terri Schiavo to a gruesome starvation death, Michael Schiavo has habitually hinged his case on three words: “persistent vegetative state.” He has pawned the lie that since his brain-disabled wife requires a feeding tube for sustenance, she is no more human than a vegetable; that since she needs more care and attention than the average human being, her life is no longer worth living.
That lie has done its job. Every time we turn on the television and hear the name Terri Schiavo, we are condescendingly reminded of her “persistent vegetative state.” Bob and Mary Schindler are blasted in newspaper opinion columns across the country for believing their daughter is still a human being capable of recovery and worthy of protection under the U.S. Constitution. All efforts to save her are in vain, the pundits tell us. She is beyond rehabilitation, beyond treatment and beyond hope.
All fine and good … provided you ignore reality.
The two lawyers serving as head legal counsel for the Schindlers recently had a chance to witness firsthand just how outlandish Michael Schiavo’s claims really are. For the first time since agreeing to represent the Schindlers in September, attorneys David Gibbs and Barbara Weller were allowed to pay a Christmas Eve visit to Terri at her hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla.
Did they find a shriveled woman staring up blankly from her bed, struggling to breathe, life-support tubes attached to every portion of her body? Did they see a woman tortured by pain, a woman who had given up all hope for living, a woman who simply wanted to “die with dignity”?
Far from it.
According to an account given by Barbara Weller, the real Terri Schiavo is entirely different from the image propagated by her estranged husband, the mainstream media and the “right-to-die” crowd. Weller recollects that Terri “was very purposeful and interactive” and appeared “very curious about the presence of obvious strangers” when she and Gibbs, accompanied by members from the Schindler family, first entered her room at the hospice.
“When her mother was close to her, Terri’s whole face lit up,” Weller continued. “She smiled. She looked directly at her mother and she made all sorts of happy sounds. When her mother talked to her, Terri was quiet and obviously listening. When she stopped, Terri started vocalizing. The vocalizations seemed to be a pattern, not merely random or reflexive at all.”
Does that strike you as a “persistent vegetative state”? Of course not. Florida law defines the condition as an “absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of any kind” and “an inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment.” How can a reasonable mind conclude that Terri’s condition falls anywhere near either of these criteria?
Weller continued: “Terri was not in bed, but was in her chair. … She was dressed and washed, her hair combed, and she was covered with a holiday blanket. There were no tubes of any kind attached to her body. She was completely free of any restraints that would have indicated any type of artificial life support. Not even her feeding tube was attached and functioning when we entered.”
Instead of noticing her so-called vegetative condition, Weller was instead struck by her beauty: “I would have expected to see someone with a sallow and gray complexion and a sick-looking countenance. Instead, I saw a very pretty woman with a peaches-and-cream complexion and a lovely smile. … I was amazed that someone who had not been outside for so many years and who received such minimal health care could look so beautiful. She appeared to have an inner light radiating from her face.”
That’s where euthanasia advocates loose their feel for true humanity. Human beings are not solely designed to think, but to feel as well. We are not designed with minds alone, but with the capacity to care, to hope and to love others. Terri may not have the same mental capacity you and I possess, but she is still able to experience happiness, express love, and let joy shine on her face. The ability to love and be loved by others is the essence of true humanity.
“As I watched her,” Weller concluded, “my foremost thought was that on the next day, Christmas, Terri should not have been confined to her small room in a hospice center … but that she should have been gathered around the Christmas dinner table enjoying the holiday with her family.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. A woman who receives no life support or respiration, interacts with her family, endeavors to communicate, feels emotion and is capable of spending Christmas with her loving family is not a vegetable. It’s time we dropped the charade and acknowledged Terri Schiavo for what she is – a human being.
David N. Bass is a 19-year-old Christian homeschool graduate who writes for World Newspaper Publishing and is a regular columnist at AmericanDaily.com, IntellectualConservative.com and RenewAmerica.us. While attending college, he interns at a pro-family public-policy organization. Bass is currently working on his first novel.