Terri Schiavo: What Have We Done?

The following was originally written March 30th 2005 and submitted, but unpublished, as a “letter-to-the-editor” of a newspaper in Los Angeles suburbs.

In 1964 Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered while “38 eye witnesses stood by and did nothing”.  Actually there were only three eye witnesses, the media generated the figure of thirty-eight based on people who also heard the murder at some point or another.  The result: public outrage.

The situation of Kitty Genovese is cited over and over in psychology studies, which I believe now applies to Terri Schiavo, SOCIAL PROOF.  You take your cues from behavior of others to learn what you should do in that situation and DIFFUSION OF RESPONSIBILITY, the presence of multiple results in each individual feeling less responsible.

Do you wonder why the press, especially TV media, is giving an hour-by-hour report of Terri Schiavo dying?  Perhaps because it is news. But the result is very dangerous. It’s macabre. Nothing like this is done for death-row convicts. They are given water and a lethal injection. Aha that’s it!

Is it possible this emotional manipulation will result in us demanding what Oregon has, lethal injection because it’s more humane.  If you want no extra-ordinary means to keep you alive, so be it. BUT depriving you of water?!

Legislation should be enacted to not allow a verbal statement as the sole basis for a living will, unless it is witnessed by disinterested parties. Especially if it is heard by someone who has a financial gain in the death.  Remember, Terri’s wishes were “recalled” AFTER a large financial settlement.  In other words, a conflict of interest.  The only statement which was attributed to Terri was she would never want “that” to happen if she ended up sick, referring to extending her life indefinitely.

Legislation should be enacted disallowing in this process of dying refusal of hydration.  If someone is going to die, as a result of irreversible illness, hydration will not keep them alive.  The least (or most) humane thing to do is offer hydration, although this whole process of assisted suicide is barbaric.  We have brought shame upon our nation as the world watches us dehydrate a person, who is not a even a criminal.  We have lowered ourselves to the activities of dictators we are now fighting and have in the past fought to free innocent people from being their victims.

A very tragic situation has occurred, we the American public have heard of a woman being dehydrated and starved to death.  We have been kept up to date, hour by hour.  Prior to this is has only been through diaries or movies we have relied on to know the trauma of starvation or dehydration.  Death has merged news with reality TV.  There is no demarcation.

Lastly, as a co-caregiver, for the last seven years of my father a stroke victim.  This situation has struck very close to home.  We are heartbroken by comments and stares we receive by people as we wheel my father in public.  They do not want him in their view.  I think about couples with young handicapped children, what they must endure.  And then we have others who give us hugs and thank-you’s for taking care of him.  Yes he has a G-tube feeder, like Terri.  Yes, he can receive limited nutrition orally.  Yes, he cannot vocalize words.  Yes, is he is eighty-five years old, a non-contributor in some opinions.  But if you knew who he is you might be a little more appreciative of him, for what he has done to make your life easier and more technologically simplified.

He has been very upset with the slow killing of Terri.  I remind him when his is in public, he is an ambassador for the elderly so that are not forgotten or devalued. If he helps remind you of someone you know who needs a hug, a kiss, a visit, or phone call; then he has done his work for the day.


Ironically the writers’ own father would pass less than four months later after writing this, upon receiving an unauthorized and questionable injection while hospitalized.  The medical staff would later document and suggest his latter three years were not part of the original stroke but in fact he had ALS.

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