I’ve been sort of vaguely following the case of Terri Schiavo in the States. Terri is a severely brain damaged woman who has been in a vegetative state for years and whose husband and family are involved in a long running series of court cases over whether her feeding tube can be removed so that she can be allowed to die.
hilzoy, a bioethicist writing at Obsidian Wings, offers a long but clearly argued explanation of the issues involved in the case. What I had not realised until now was that Terri’s husband, often presented as the villain who wants to kill his wife, did not in fact decide himself that he wants her to be allowed to die. Instead, some years ago, he could not make up his mind so he took the case to court and asked it to make the decision based on what evidence it could find. The court made the decision that to be allowed to die would probably be what his wife would want if she were competent to decide. Ever since then he has been fighting to have that decision implemented.
hilzoy’s argument is persuasive. The Right to Life lobby in the States (which seems mainly to consist of the Christian right) is arguing that there may be a tiny chance that there might be a small amount of living tissue left in the part of the brain responsible for consciousness (the cerebral cortex). hilzoy points out that Terri’s brain would have to be almost entirely recreated for her to regain her senses because the brain currently consists of nothing much more than cerebrospinal fluid1.
It seems to me, after reading hilzoy’s essay, that there is no longer any doubt that Terri’s body should be allowed to switch itself off. Terri is no longer in it and hasn’t been for a long, long time.
Posted 24 March 2005, 00:46 GMT