Thanks for posting that. Please make it a separate thread if you can, so that we can gain maximum exposure for Terri. This is so awful! I will ping others as soon as I can. I'll explain later.
Who put the ethics in Bioethics?
Pamela F. Hennessy
The Merriam-Webster definition of bioethics is a discipline dealing with the ethical implications of biological research and applications especially in medicine. At first blush, bioethics would seem like a noble profession. A layperson would likely suspect that the function of a Bioethicist is that of intrepid gatekeeper, ensuring that research and advances in medical technology stay a constant path of good, ethical and human decision making.
Not necessarily so.
Perhaps the most recognizable name in bioethics is that of Peter Singer. Singer has held impressive appointments as Professor for a number of notable universities (currently Princeton) and has written a number of provocative books and articles. His penchant for philosophy and activism in the animal rights community could easily have one believing him a benevolent and compassionate person.
However, in his book Practical Ethics, Singer espouses the belief that infanticide, euthanasia and mercy killing are ethically acceptable practices. He writes: We saw that the fact that a being is a human being is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.
This particular excerpt is teaming with language (relevant, autonomy, self-consciousness) that todays Bioethicists use to justify the rationing of proportionate care to profoundly disabled and terminally ill patients. Hastening death and even causing death, it seems, has become the new model in ethical thought.
In the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, a decade-long legal struggle over the rights of an incapacitated woman have brought the issues of life and death into a sobering new focus, and the bioethics community has not missed this opportunity to promote their logic. Schiavo is a brain-injured woman who receives nutrition and hydration by the way of a gastric tube. Her husband has petitioned the courts for the authority to remove this tube and allow her to die by dehydration and starvation while her parents and siblings have battled to keep that from happening. They and their doctors believe Terri is responsive and functional and have asked the courts to award them guardianship so that they can pursue rehabilitation for her.
Anyone can easily be touched by Terris situation and the sadness that surely accompanies it. But few see the far-reaching implications her case presents or the almost surreal way in which American media has used it to embrace the philosophy of mercy killing.
In January of 2005, Bioethicist and author, Arthur Caplan, was a featured speaker at a lecture in Tampa, Florida. The topic matter was Terri Schiavos legal case. During that speech, Dr. Caplan predicted that Terris husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, would ultimately prevail through the courts and remove Terris feeding tube.
Though he empathized with Terris parents and siblings, Caplan appeared to feel that the courts stood squarely on the side of Terris husband and would continue to do so.
I wrote to Dr. Caplan and asked him to provide me with his ethical attitudes on some troubling factors in Terris situation. I pointed out that Mr. Schiavo, while still married to Terri, has started a family with another woman to whom he has been engaged for ten years. I pointed out that Terri has been denied statutorily retained rights such as necessary medical treatment, restoration to capacity and the ability to receive social interaction. Finally, I expressed my own horror at the suffering that a dehydration death surely causes and asked that Dr. Caplan how such things in a medical environment could possibly be considered ethical.
Dr. Caplan responded promptly and courteously. However, he didnt answer my questions. Instead, he responded: I do not know or have any views about Michael Schiavo. But Florida courts have not displaced him as the spouse. The issues of guardianship adequacy will and have already been addressed by the courts. The issue of the status of a feeding tube is beyond dispute. It has been affirmed by the US Supreme Court in Cruzan and will not be changed in the Schiavo case.
His answers are seemingly accurate. But did Dr. Caplan give the ethical interpretation that I was seeking? No. Instead, he relied on the concept that if the judge says so, it must be right. This, to me, is nothing less than dodging the issue.
If Dr. Caplan truly believes that there are no ethical or moral implications existing in Terri Schiavos case, I would think hed be eager to say so. Final judgment may be precisely that, but it is far from being an ethical or moral end-all or a determination of right versus wrong.
Also in January, as the date for consideration of Terris case by the United States Supreme Court neared, another Bioethicist by the name of Michael Gordon decided to chime in. In an editorial published by The Medical Post, Dr. Gordon responded to a quote that appeared in a recent editorial published by a Toronto newspaper that read: in the absence of an explicit directive, the wishes of family who are willing to assume the burdens and costs of preserving life, not ending it should prevail, concluding that, the law must protect those who cannot protect themselves.
His reaction was: This view completely ignores the ethical concept of autonomy
I wrote to Dr. Gordon as did an associate of mine, asking if he would be kind enough to illustrate the ethics he applied to the case of Terri Schiavo. His response discouraged me:
I cannot engage in this discussion with you. I wrote an opinion piece- you as anyone else can disagree with my opinion.
His response to my associate astonished me:
this an opinion piece which I do not need to justify. I do not follow the legal happening in detail in the US but just read the news reports (Emphasis mine).
Dr. Gordon admits not only that his editorial is strictly a personally-held opinion but that hes not followed the case with any studious vigor. Ergo, he likely knows little (if anything) of the real-life situation as it plays out for Terri, her family and her guardian. Likewise, he probably knows nothing regarding the dispute over Terris condition or the many doctors who have volunteered to provide her with rehabilitation. But he feels qualified to act as an authority on the ethics of forcing death upon a severely disabled woman.
I cannot help but wonder if Dr. Gordon has ever witnessed the anguish of a loved-one being intentionally dehydrated and starved to death.
I asked attorney Rita Marker what qualifies a person to be a Bioethicist. Marker is the author of Deadly Compassion and the executive director of the International Taskforce on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. She told me that, unlike beauticians, auto-mechanics or electricians, Bioethicists are not compelled to qualify through an educational or certification process. Marker states: Any person can go to the local Kinkos and have business cards printed up, calling himself of herself an ethicist.
Yet, they consider themselves experts and present their opinions as facts that you and I should base our own decision making on.
This is in no way a slapdash occurrence of altruistic journalism. This is, instead, the highest form of irresponsibility from a profession that places the word ethics in their own epithet.
It is tragic enough that the general public have been fed numerous inaccuracies about Terri Schiavo and her situation. When you add to the mix a number of self-proclaimed experts who speak without actual knowledge, the outcome reaches beyond unethical. It jumps directly into unadulterated danger. For all their expertise on ethics as they apply to healthcare, it seems that these noted bioethicists have not turned that powerful perception on themselves.
Some self-titled experts may soon have you believing that dehydrating and starving a healthy human being to death is a compassionate and ethical course. The question remains, should individuals take these opinions in without questioning the real and long-term problems such actions bring about? Should we not question the validity of those opinions, considering the sources?
Many Bioethicists seem to encourage us to turn our backs on the weaker of our citizens by insinuating that the elderly, disabled and incapacitated have a duty to die. Not a right, but a duty. How can this possibly be viewed as ethical?
Terri Schiavo is alive. More than likely because she wants to be. But dont expect to hear that from anyone with the word ethics in the designation any time soon.
Pamela F. Hennessy is a marketing and media executive in Florida and has volunteered for the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation (www.terrisfight.org) since November of 2002.