Where My Nose Doesn’t Belong…

Everyone is taking sides, it seems. Either Terri Shiavo’s parents are saints and her husband is the devil incarnate, or her parents are selfish, self absorbed people who don’t want to see what they hope is right and her husband is this selfless, well intentioned gentleman who only wants to fulfill his wife’s deepest wish.

People are arguing over it, protesting over it, getting into shouting matches and pointing accusatory fingers; politicians are scrambling to turn it into a posturing issue for their constituents, and the courts have said over and over that there is no legal merit for reinserting her feeding tube.

And we continue to take sides.

Here’s the thing…I don’t think either side is wrong. I think her parents believe she’s not in a true persistent vegetative state and that removing her feeding tube is equal to torture. I think her husband honestly believes she would not want to live this way. The parents want their daughter to live; the husband is not doing this for money. He turned down 10 million dollars to sign away his medical guardianship for her (I read that online; take it for what it’s worth.) If it were about money, at some point he would have taken it—long before this became such a hotbed issue—and walked away.

No parent wants their child to die, especially if they deeply believe it’s morally wrong under any circumstances and that the method of death is painful and cruel.

No husband wants his wife to die if he believes it’s painful and cruel; but he will generally respect his wife’s wishes. Michael Shiavo believes his wife is already gone. He believes the doctors who say that in a persistent vegetative state, a person feels nothing and will not suffer the lack of food and water.

The parents are doing what they believe is right. They are fighting for their daughter’s life.

The husband is doing what he thinks is right; he is fighting for her right to die.

And for the rest of us, it’s become a spectator sport. We’re all—well, most of us—making presumptions about Terri Shiavo’s condition, her husband’s character, her parents selfishness or selflessness.

It doesn’t matter that Michael Shiavo has moved onto to another relationship and has children; that’s a separate issue and it doesn’t necessarily change what he feels for his wife, and what he does to protect what he believes her wishes to be. It shows that he’s human. God forbid any of us should be judged on our humanity.

The truth is, no one can possibly know what is absolutely right in this situation. We can’t really know what this woman feels or doesn’t feel, what she really wanted or if her husband is making presumptions, based on their relationship, that he knows what she would want. It’s not possible to know 100% for sure what the right thing to do is.

It could be argued that keeping her alive harms no one—if she truly is in a PVS then it probably doesn’t matter to her what happens. It could also be argued that violating what may be her wishes by keeping her alive is morally aberrant.

But no matter what, there has been good coming out of the entire issue: it has made all of us very aware that we need our wishes known now about what we would like to happen if we’re ever in a similar situation. People are being educated about the importance of Living Wills and Advanced Medical Directives.

While I think it’s sad that the world has become spectator to the private pain and struggles of one family, they’ve done us all a tremendous service by opening our eyes to what can happen if we’re not prepared.

I don’t think either side in this particular case is more right or more wrong that the other. That’s just my own opinion, and once in a while my opinions are wrong. Just like anyone else. But I hate that this family is being paraded in front of the world by the media to be judged and argued over and to have fingers pointed at them. But I am grateful that they have brought this issue forward, because if nothing else, a multitude of families will be spared this particular agony because now they will discuss the issue and take the steps to create the necessary documents to make their wishes known, and make them legal.

Let’s hope none of us ever have to make those kinds of decisions. Frankly, it sucks. And I would hope that no matter what side of the issue an individual takes, they’re at least thinking good thoughts for the entire family.

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