Thursday, March 31, 2005

As Terri Schiavo dies, people reflect, talk, think...

At this writing she isn't dead yet. Not officially.
As the waiting continues, a new kind of public conversation is taking place. Those who have been marginalized as part of the lunatic fringe are being treated with a little more respect. Stories are being told. Personal experiences are being shared. And just as the appearance of a clerical collar causes people to become more aware of profanity, the plight of Terri Schiavo is one that makes us tread more softly in conversation. We never know when we might be speaking with someone with a personal experience, recently re-lived, that has opened a part of their heart and mind that we didn't know about before.

A doctor recounts a personal experience with an adult patient born without what most people would call a brain...

I was astounded, however, that when I turned on a child's music box in the room, I observed that this hydranencephalic patient turned toward the musical device and began to smile and make sounds, as if she were enjoying the experience. I then tested this observation several times and found a consistent response to sound stimulation. When I conducted a test of electrical activity in her brain stem, the portion of the brain that controls bodily functions like breathing, I was surprised to find that the neurons of the brain stem involved with hearing were normal.

Several more advanced electrophysiological brain measures showed that she had normal hearing response waves, reflecting neural activity in the higher brain stem. She was aware at some level of the sounds and people noises in her environment, and responded to these sounds with the appearance of joyfulness.

I immediately brought her other doctors back into the room, where they began to interact with her in a totally different manner, in some cases holding her hand and trying to speak with her, and treating her more like a normally functioning human being. I was so emotionally moved by her struggle for human definition through the single modality of hearing that I went down to a local electronics shop and bought her an audio cassette player, and some modern and classical music.

On of the monks who came to Florida with the approval of their bishop, to be with those who watch, wait and pray, awaiting the death of Terri Schiavo, said:

"If people cast us off as fanatics, then they cast us off as fanatics, but that's part of what being a prophetic witness is, to be able to say something is the truth. Whether or not people listen doesn't matter to us. We're called to speak it and live it."

Judith Weiss keeps on linking to good stuff, including James Lileks taking on Christopher Hitchens.

I heard Nat Hentoff on a radio show two nights ago make the point that this case is not a "right to die" case. It is a "disability rights" case. The point is well taken, except for the legal thicket through which we have to wade to get there. In the end we are watching helplessly as those who prate about "We are a nation of laws" have their day.

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