Sunday, April 03, 2005

Schiavo, Feeding, and Bulimia

This is by far the most interesting and original perspective on the Schiavo case that I have read. An excerpt:
Theresa Schiavo spent more than a decade fighting an eating disorder. As millions recoil in horror at the fact that she died from the removal of a feeding tube, the irony that a woman who was plagued by food should die in that way has been lost. Ms. Schiavo entered her persistent vegetative state, in all likelihood, as a result of a heart attack brought on by her struggle with weight.

But when beautiful people, dressed in clothes to tiny to fit most Americans, host one program after another in which Terri Schiavo is fashioned as a vulnerable symbol of death by starvation, it is all too easy to miss the fact that Terri Schiavo did her 'starving' twenty years ago.

I am still disgusted at all the attention that the Schiavo case got, especially from liberals. I can't help but feeling that all that attention, energy, and effort could have been spent on more important issues. Of course, the ethical issues surrounding death, dying, and the quality of life are important, but the Schiavo case was a particularly odd one to receive the attention. The right to die is accepted by most, regardless of political or religious affiliations. Furthermore, the one important ethical question of death and dying, euthanasia, that this case could have raised, was almost completely ignored by both sides.

But Terri's life, and death, could also have been used to raise awareness of another important problem, that of eating disorders. In all the talk of whether Michael Schiavo was to blame, for her PVS, her death, or for not remaining faithful for the 15 years that she remained irreversibly unconscious, Terri's bulimia got lost in the mix. Reporters couldn't even bring themselves to admit that it was the likely cause of her death. They always qualified any reference to the role of her eating disorder in her death with things like, "According to Michael Schiavo, her brain damage was the result of a heart attack suffered due to a potassium imbalance caused by her bulimia." According to Michael Schiavo! As if there weren't a medical history of her disorder. As if he'd come up with the diagnosis all by himself. If you can't bring yourself to admit that an eating disorder had something to do with her death, or even that she had one, then you can't use her death to raise awareness of eating disorders. Instead, her bulimia gets swept under the rug, as eating disorders almost always do. To me, that's just tragic.


Brandon said...

I'm not sure what you mean by 'the right to die'; in my experience people rarely mean the same things by it, and the label just papers over substantive differences.

But I agree that it would be good if people paid more attention to eating disorders like the one that afflicted Schiavo; there's simply no good reason to ignore these problems.

Clark Goble said...

I think the controversy was over some unclarity regarding Schiavo's actual wishes. Unfortunately the media played up this uncertainty well beyond what was justified. The media truly came out looking quite bad. But I do think that there were some valid concerns about whether a person's word ought to count regarding a person's wishes with respect to dying.

As you say though, more concern about eating disorders would be a great benefit from the case. Sadly I see no indication that this is the case. On the other hand more people are willing to create a living will which definitely is a good idea. I need to draw one up myself.

Chris said...

Guardianship in these cases is pretty well established, and since Michael wasn't the only one who testified that she would wish to be taken off the feeding tube (I don't know of anyone who testified that she'd ever said anything to imply that she would want to stay on the tube), it doesn't even seem like much of a legal issue to me. Of course, I'm glad that it will make more people write living wills, but I imagine most of them will write that they would to be taken off the feeding tube as well.

I definitely agree that the media has taken a hit. When a prominent news source (Fox News) uses a psychic (John Edwards) as an expert, it becomes clear that the media's credibility needs life support.

On what I mean by "right to die:" Terri Schiavo was in a PVS, from which she had no hope of recovery, and could only be kept "alive" through artificial means (a feeding tube). I think there is a pretty broad consensus, among ethicists and the general public, that under these circumstances people have the right to die (which amounts to refusing medical treatment). Of course, Schiavo couldn't make this decision herself, as she was irreversibly unconscious. However, as several witnesses testified that those were her express wishes, and as Michael Schiavo, her legal guardian and her doctors decided that this is what they should do, I really don't think it's an ethical issue at all.

WJcoolbiz said...

The whole Schiavo case was way overblown by the liberal media. However, it boils down to how cruel and evil some people can be.

The family On Terri's side wasn't even allowed to stay when she was close to passing on.

I plan on commenting further on my blog when concrete evidence reflects on who was at fault on the abuse. I really think it was not ethical when Terri's Husband started cheating on her when this all came about.

Suz said...

following along here... yes, I am sick of the Schiavo case and media hype. But I don't get where the "liberal media" bit comes from. Was this really a liberal issue? It seemed to me to be from all over the map, with "conservatives" not necessarily towing the party line, and "liberals" not towing their line either.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I wrote an editorial about it in my college newspaper, if you are interested.

sarah25 said...

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