I guess some of you have seen the mention of my name today on Public Address. If you’re interested in what we said behind the closed doors of email, I’ll copy it out here, with only the gentlest of editing, purely for context.
I know you’re done with this, I just wanted to drop you a line as one of the seemingly very few dirty lefty atheists that thinks Terri is being murdered.
I see a difference between switching off a machine which keeps someone’s heart beating or lungs working after they’re really truly clinically & brain dead, and withdrawing the necessities of life in such a way that you and I would die as well.
There are who knows how many thousands of quadriplegics in the world who can’t feed themselves, would it be reasonable to cut them off as well? "Well fuck, Mr Reeve, if you were a complete human you’d be able to fry your own goddamn eggs. There’s nothing I can do now, it’s court ordered."
So I think the argument that doctors & family members have to make decisions to switch off life support is a red herring, water isn’t life support unless you’re a fish.
She is clearly massively brain damaged, and I expect the footage that shows her reacting to environmental stimuli is probably judiciously & optimistically edited to show her at her best. Even so, I don’t believe in killing people just because they’re fucked. If you kill people with brain damage, where do you draw the line? Goodbye George Hawkins? (Here’s hoping.)
And indeed, it is hard to argue with so many court findings (don’t forget the system is adversarial, NOT fact based, an important distinction, I think), and expert medical opinions that she’ll never recover; or over how profoundly destroyed her brain is. But I simply don’t care. I don’t think it’s human or humane to kill people because they’re damaged.
Maybe the whole atheist (or agnostic when I’m in a generous mood) thing flavours my view. She ain’t going nowhere once this wrecked life is over, so isn’t it better to be a wreck than to be absolutely fucking nothing? For millions and millions and billions of years? That’s a real long time to not exist.
It almost breaks my heart that the only people that seem to hold the same position as I do are bizarre right wing religious fundamentalists.
Isn’t it better to have your hair stroked and be spoken to with love (by your loony family, sure), than to compost?
The whole thing is a complete mess.
So then Russell said, to paraphrase, "But is that what you’d want for yourself? If medical science says there’s no chance for recovery, I wouldn’t wish it on myself or my family."
I think this is where we get to the importance of informed consent. You know what you’re talking about here, and you’ve made the rational and conscious decision that you don’t want to be left to drag on with massive brain trauma, and I do respect that.
Indeed, I’m a supporter of assisted suicide, which I guess is another step back from what we’re talking about here. But if a person wants to end their life, and can’t do it entirely without help, then I don’t think people that provide whatever assistance is need should be criminals.
But euthanasia is only civilised if the person concerned asked for it. Otherwise, frankly, it’s murder in a lab coat.
How would you feel if one of your sons fell off a deck and bonked his head, then had a doctor decide that as he only had a 5% chance of full recovery, it simply isn’t worth the trouble so *flick* and off go the machines. You’d want to be involved in the decision making process. And if it was you that fell off the deck, you’d want to have people who knew your wishes making the decision for you.
I think it’s consent that has caused all of the problems in this case, as all we have is the word of the (alleged – and by people with an axe to grind, granted) abuser of a woman who was already psychologically vulnerable even before her heart attack. It is hard to say what his motivations would be to falsely claim that his wife desired this. It clearly isn’t greed, the man has turned down millions of dollars. Verbal contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
It seems that this whole sorry affair will have a positive effect in that direction, what with the sudden popularity of living wills. And indeed I’ve made it clear to my friends and close family that I *do* want heroic measures taken if I fall off a deck, I want to sit on whatever machines are available for as long as possible, though I haven’t done anything as formal as printing out a living will and signing it with witnesses, or whatever. I’ve even told them how I want to be stored. With talking books and such, just in case I’m stuck in my skull and bored. (Also, National Radio in the morning, but switch to something else before Wayne’s Music starts. Erggg.) Perhaps I’m horribly selfish, but as I’ve already said, it’s with the only self I have to be ish of.
It’s not like "medical science" is infallible. One century leeches are great, the next they’re archaic and monstrous, then suddenly they’re helping people recover after having limbs reattached and such. It’s hard to say how they could be wrong that a cavity full of CSF isn’t a living brain, though. There _are_ cases of completely horrific brain trauma that turned out sort of okay in the end – a girl who had one of the hemispheres of her brain entirely removed (to treat epilepsy, as I recall), for example, and is now walking and talking and relatively normal.
A great big mess of an email, but now you know what he was talking about.