The steaks and salmon are sizzling. Mushrooms and onions are saut?ed in butter and garlic. Corn is steamed; butter melted. Pasta is boiling and sauce bubbling. It smells so good.

Terri Schiavo won’t smell them.

Salad is tossed in dressing and adorned with feta cheese. Crusty bread and butter await, and a fine wine is uncorked and left to breathe. Coffee brews and tea steeps while desserts tempt the eye and palate.

Terri Schiavo won’t taste them.

Our lives go on. We eat and drink and sleep and wake and smile and cry and love and hate.

And Terri Schiavo is dying – not because her natural time has come but because the system decided she must. They haven’t asked her. They ignore and demean her parents and siblings who want Terri to continue to live.

Terri Schiavo, the afternoon of March 18, began her journey to death. Not from disease or injury or age – she’s only 41. Her food and water have been stopped, and a grisly deathwatch has begun. Terri is deliberately being starved and dehydrated to death.

She is not a prisoner of a demented killer or angry enemy, or even of a terrorist.

She is, however, a prisoner of her in-name-only husband. He has a live-in girlfriend, two children with her and calls her his fianc?e, whom he intends to marry as soon as Terri is dead.

Terri’s also a prisoner of a system that has decided she will die. The system will not deliberately kill her, and by that I mean deliver the deathblow via poison or other means. No, that would be illegal.

But the system will kill her. The method of death – in the year 2005, in this first-world country with the best medical system in the world – for this young woman, who has nothing wrong with her except a damaged brain, is deliberate starvation and deprivation of fluids.

It’s almost impossible to believe that her feeding tube, which has nourished and hydrated her for 15 years – since her mysterious injury in her own apartment with her husband the only witness – has been removed. She will lie in bed until she dies. It could take three weeks.

As I write this, people across the country are eating their meals and drinking their beverages. They’ll go to bed in peace to dream their way to another day.

And then there’s Terri Schiavo.

Who is she? Funny you should ask. If it’s only now you’re hearing about her – and it’s not because her story hasn’t deserved telling. It’s because until now, mainstream media – and indeed, most media, of whatever political stripe – have ignored Terri.

Her story is tough – one that media, especially television, tend to ignore. The cameras want people who are sympathetic. They can’t empathize with someone who is “funny looking” and can’t take care of herself.

You’d be “funny looking” if you suffered a mysterious injury that left you brain-damaged and unable to speak or swallow.

You’d be “funny looking” if you spent the last 15 years virtually a prisoner of the person you married, who promised one day long ago to love and honor you in sickness and in health and to care for you forever.

Many believe Terri’s husband tried to strangle her that night 15 years ago. Many believe that’s why Michael Schiavo won’t divorce her, won’t allow her rehabilitative therapy, wants her dead and has ordered immediate cremation.

You’d be “funny looking” if that person refused you medical treatment, medical tests, dental care, physical therapy, open windows, walks outside, visits from your parents and other family members and friends, free practice of your religion and reception of the sacraments of your faith.

Terri Schiavo is that person and she is “funny looking” but only if you regard her infirmity as a measure of her humanity. I don’t, but many do. I’ve heard from them. They look at Terri, see she’s disabled and on that basis decide she’d be better off dead. “Who would want to live that way?” they harrumph. “I wouldn’t.”

Well, OK. But this isn’t about you. It’s about Terri and her family members who love her and want to care for her, regardless of her infirmity or how she looks.

Terri’s parents look at her and see their baby who grew into a beautiful young woman and who, in her early 20s, was taken from them by a mysterious brain injury. Her brother and sister see the person they grew up with. They want to care for Terri but her husband, Michael, refuses.

Many look at Terri and decide that she is “trapped” in her body and should be “allowed to die” or be “put out of her misery.” It’s the same line: “No one would want to live that way.”

Yes, but she is in that body. What if she’s aware of everything that’s going on? What if she doesn’t want to die but can’t tell us? What is the measure of the decision on who should live or die? Is it the condition of our bodies? If so, every disabled person, sick person and old person is in danger.

We don’t do that to pets or other animals. We wouldn’t be allowed to do that to terrorist prisoners or other war captives. It would be considered cruel, unusual and inhumane.

But for Terri Schiavo, the unthinkable is not only thinkable but possible and, as I write this, is taking place under the protection of the law as ordered by the courts of Florida. Both the State and the U.S. Supreme Courts have declined to intervene.

Efforts are under way in Congress to put a stop to it but thus far, Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer, in ignoring a congressional subpoena, has essentially said, “Stick it in your ear.” He said Terri will die, and so she will.

Unless all those prayers for her life are answered. It will take a miracle. And I weep.

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