Time to step on my soapbox for a bit and flex my argumentative muscle. Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die. But wait, there’s more. I see two major lessons that the world should learn from the whole sad episode: Living wills are very important, and euthanasia must become legal.

The media is very happy to go about showing footage of Terri reacting to a balloon placed in front of her, or to the presence of her mother. What the media doesn’t show is the rest of the hours-long reels of footage that might be on the same videotape: Terri doing absolutely nothing. Terri NOT responding to repeated stimuli, from a balloon, human, or anything else. It makes sense; footage of a nonresponsive person is very boring and won’t make headlines. But it is a disservice to the case to suggest that she is somehow conscious or even mentally functional beyond breathing. From what I have read, she is not. She can breathe on her own, but that’s about it. You can clap your hands in front of her 1000 times, and she may blink or twitch her eyes once. That is not consciousness, and the brain scans show essentially no mental capacity or activity. Most importantly, in the 13 years that she has been kept alive by a feeding tube, she has not once shown the ability to display her will or opinion. Even someone who does not consider her to be hopeless must acquiesce this very evident fact.

Because she is unable to exert her own will, it must be expressed by proxy from some party. In her case, it is arguable as to who holds that power. I believe it is her husband, as impersonable as he may be in interviews. As the person who probably spent the most time with her prior to her accident, and the person who swore legally and morally to care for her, he is in the best position to exert her will in the best way he can. Due to the lack of a signed document, he can only go by her spoken wishes. Those wishes are up for debate, but again, as her legal and ethical mate, he is the one person who can best represent her desires at this time.

Because of Mr. Schiavo’s imperfect character and story, there may be some debate as to who should decide his wife’s fate. This is a decision to be made by the family members and perhaps the court system in a civil case, but under NO circumstance should the governer intervene with the process! It is bewildering and offensive to me that the state legislature would put themselves on a higher plane of authority with respect to her life. I can’t understand the logic behind the bill, and I especially can’t believe that any governor would be so reactionary and needy of public approval that he would pull a stunt like this. It is only prolonging the pain for all parties involved and provides no real solution, even if the parents were somehow to “win” and assert their wish to keep her alive. That is a decision for the family and the courts, NOT for Governor Bush.

The sad truth is that there is no happy ending for this story, regardless of its outcome. Euthanasia is currently against the law, which means that Schiavo cannot be mercifully put to death. Instead, the only way to fulfill her alleged desire to be removed from life support is to pull out her feeding tube and let her die from the resulting starvation. It is a horrible way to die, even for a person who is no longer conscious and probably feels no pain. But there is no choice. I would rather have her wishes be fulfilled in this inhumane manner than have her kept alive against her wishes, which is arguably less humane. In a country where criminals are routinely put to death by lethal injection, and where our pets are often put to sleep when they are no longer able to lead comfortable and happy lives, we must let this woman starve. It is shameful, but it is shamefully right.

In order to avoid this kind of ethical and legal disaster in the future, euthanasia should be made legal. People should be allowed to choose to end their own lives, at least in situations where the alternative to death is a severely incapacitated, unfulfilling, uncomfortable life. More importantly, however, people should consider making public and official their wishes regarding life support. Perhaps a formal living will is too morbid or cumbersome for younger people to consider. But Terri Schiavo’s case makes clear to me that we should all be able to assert our opinions even when we can not actively do it ourselves. Most states let drivers mark themselves as organ donors on their licenses. Should it be just as easy to mark oneself as “DNR?” Would that have ended Schiavo’s life 13 years ago, rather than draw it out while her husband, her parents, and state lawmakers battle it out on CNN?

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