A vegetative state is bad

If we can divine anything positive from the sad squabbling over a brain-damaged and unresponsive Florida woman, it is that many people don’t want to end up in the same predicament.

Maybe now we will answer inquiries about advanced life directives and living wills with something besides a blank stare oddly reminiscent of an advanced vegetative state.

Due to an apparent lull in the Scott Peterson murder trial, an all-intrusive public interest descends upon a Florida medical facility. Within its walls, a family’s complicated and private matter unfolds. All we outsiders can do is criticize them and explain how much better we would handle the predicament. All the political showboating and opportunistic moralizing might have been silenced if the woman had signed a piece of paper when she was still capable of doing so.

To briefly synopsize the situation for the baseball fans among you: Thirteen years ago, Terri Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest resulting in brain damage. Since then, Schiavo has been awake but wholly unaware. Maybe she reacts to noisy or painful stimuli, but she will never again be an interactive, self-aware human.

Since 1998, Schiavo’s husband has claimed his wife never wanted to be kept alive in a state of biological limbo. Her blood relatives tout anecdotal evidence of Schiavo responding emotionally to conversations and attempting to communicate. They want her kept alive.

A Florida judge finally sided with the husband and allowed a feeding tube to be removed. Florida legislators and Gov. Jeb Bush countered with a directive that put the tube back in after a six-day hiatus.

A rare admirable moment occurred when a Florida senator handed out forms for “living wills” to his colleagues.

Most states supply a handful of forms that allow a person to legally express a desire not to be kept alive through extraordinary medical measures. They allow a rational person to help medical personnel and family make a decision during the frenzy and turmoil that would likely surround any trauma requiring such unenviable decisions.

Best of all, it avoids the gruesome focus cases such as Schiavo’s attract. It keeps a loved one from becoming a political chess piece.

Unfortunately, this is what Terri Schiavo became. Combine the Florida governor’s position with his brother’s enthusiasm for banning a seldom-used yet symbolic late-term abortion procedure. The motivations seem obvious to me. Jeb Bush and his embattled hermano appear to be placating their most stable and loyal supporters in the Christian right. If fair-weather Bushophiles abandon them, they’ll always have the born-again Christians.

The extraordinary and intricate details of Schiavo’s state of being will not get appropriate treatment in the political ring. It matters very little what any of us outsiders think about this poor woman. At least, it shouldn’t matter. Let’s get our own paperwork in order.

The subject extends beyond the rare scenario that Schiavo’s family currently endures, but into more common realms involving organ donation and even internment wishes. I now realize that blurting out my vision of the perfect funeral during a lapse in breakfast dialogue is not nearly enough. Although I verbally express a desire to have my remains cremated and dumped on my stepmother’s head, it lacks a legal leg to stand on.

Especially if my stepmother gets involved.

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