The protracted case involving Terri Schiavo disturbs me as a lawyer and a human being because her husband and parents should by now have been able to come to some sort of common sense agreement. It's at times like this I really feel the law really is an ass. My interest in this case is also piqued by the fact my brother Seamus was involved in a dreadful car accident when he was eleven--an incident I witnessed as a fourteen-year-old and never wish even horrid people the misfortune to have to witness. He was rendered unconscious for months and eventually emerged, though with some permanent brain damage. Thankfully, after much physiotherapy, training and family encouragement, he now enjoys a normal life.
It's my understanding that Ms. Schiavo had not prepared written instructions or a Health Care proxy in the event of her being rendered unconscious and unable to make decisions about her life. Her husband is arguing that she always stated to him that she'd rather die than live on a respirator. In a court of law, her husband's statement is old-fashioned hearsay and cannot carry significant weight. Moreover, the medical community is divided in Ms. Schiavo's prognosis, some declaring her vegetative while others say she has a degree of awareness.
To me the question is really one of common sense and I side with the parents, specifically Terri's mother. We have a case where the husband wants, understandably so, to move on with his life; as such, all he really needs to do in our Western society is divorce his wife and leave. Her parents are willing and able to look after their daughter, want desperately to keep her alive on the chance she might recover. (Harboring such hopes is not unfounded because a few weeks ago someone emerged from a comma after 20 years--granted it's not common, but nevertheless it happened.)
I believe there is nothing stronger on this earth than the mother-child bond by virtue of the fact the mother carried and fed her offspring with her own blood. Even a father, no matter how loving, cannot experience this degree of closeness. Unlike this bond, the bond of matrimony is manmade, is really a legal creation to help regulate personal relationships and bestow legitimacy on two unrelated persons living together in society. (I know some people will argue its not a legality, that God created the institution every bit as much as He created man (and woman), but I'm afraid at the end of the day it's a legal institution, period.) Regardless as to the words used during the various kinds of religious services, all of them to the effect that the couple are 'joined' or become 'one,' common sense dictates that two individuals enter the institution and two individuals emerge after the ceremony. All that has changed is that legal papers have been signed and emotions and attitudes have readjusted--both those of the people who married and anyone encountering them as a married couple from that day onward--and any offspring will be legitimate in the eyes of the law.
As such, I believe a spouse's rights should not automatically be regarded as higher than a parents rights. Our society puts a premium on blood relations, so doesn't it automatically follow that blood should always trump when it comes to who makes critical decisions such as the one in the Schiavo case? In this case, with no written instructions from the infirm woman, her mother, the person who gave her daughter life and weaned her, wants her daughter to live and will provide for her needs. That should be sufficient for the courts. Let Ms. Schiavo live so she can be looked after by those of her blood. Enough of this unseemly tug-o-war.
[technorati: Terri Schiavo, coma, marriage, mothers]