Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Brave Period

A Message in Progress

As the death crescendo for Terri Schindler Schiavo accelerates and the orchestrated cacophony intensfies in pitch - calling feverishly for Terri's head on a platter on the one hand while feigning casual indifference on the other (a blatant contradiction) - we are naturally split into four groups: Terri supporters, Terri deniers, the indifferents who either don't care or won't engage, and the truly "uncommitted" - those who don't know which side to believe but know the choice is important to make before she dies.

But time's dwindling fast: when she's gone, four groups will become three. Anyone who's uncommitted will be lumped in with those who just don't care and can't be bothered. Beware!

There's hope for the last group. For those on the fence it probably comes down to (1) whether or not you believe Terri would have wanted to die if she had PVS, and (2) whether or not you believe that she actually has PVS.

Interestingly there appear to be answers on both fronts: Michael has made up the former, and Terri doesn't have the latter. (Hope that makes your decision easier. :)

There are those who are positive Terri Schiavo is a conscious and sentient being, and has been misdiagnosed with PVS on purpose. That conviction will come under further attack before it eventually prevails; there are just too many out there who have gone too far to turn back voluntarily. So those of us who've come to our own decisions voluntarily may need the courage to stick with them through the lurid aftermath: the autopsy (and whatever it purports to reveal or conceal), the recriminations, and the system flexing its muscle. If you - like me - are not sure whether Michael Schiavo (or the Pinellas County M.E.) can be taken at his word, I'm here to tell (or reassure) you: it doesn't matter right now.

There's a trap in overthinking the situation we've been handed. We're taught and encouraged to put trust and faith in the law (both civil and criminal), in medical science (both to save lives and to determine when lives are worth saving), and in the free press (to investigate what we don't know, report what we know, and decide what it is we should know). However: Those tools are offered not only as the best means by which to make sense of complex situations, but also as the de facto arbiter of right and wrong and the only just means of resolving them. Often we structure the discussion and resolution of problems like Terri Schiavo's in context of the law, medicine and politics - as if that were the roadmap for seeking a just outcome. But the fact is: all of those disciplines can be subverted or manipulated (like a straw puppet) at will by those with the right access, motive and willingness to do the unthinkable.

Just consider: Did Michael have an affair before Terri's "incident" in 1990 as Terri's friends have asserted? Or did Terri have an eating disorder as Michael's friends have asserted? Did Terri's supporters speak out of their own accord or was their "PR campaign" orchestrated by the right-to-life lobby? Did Terri's deniers bubble up to the surface before or after the right-to-die lobby launched their PR campaign to have Terri done away with?

And did Dr. Cranford follow medical best practices in establishing Terri's PVS, or is even the suggestion of impropriety or incompetence a "vicious slander"? The fact is: none of these "he said, she said" questions brought us here. What brought us to this point was a system that has rewarded the behavior of certain individuals for subverting the very system they claim to represent: judges not being judges. Nurses not being nurses. Hospital adminstrators not "administrating". Doctors not healing the sick. And law enforcement not enforcing the law. The questions about this or that are merely sideshows; the point is, had the system not been infiltrated, it would have worked in Terri's favor long before now.

As we've seen, no less than ten valid reasons for staying and reversing Terri's conviction and execution have been raised over the years, yet none has made any difference whatsoever in the mind of the man calling the shots. All the appeals courts have ruled on is his right to make that decision based on whatever fabricated evidence he chooses to consider.

"Don't worry, let us figure it all out for you," we're told, "the courts/ doctors/ press/ Congress will get it right eventually. Even if it's too late to help this poor woman, even if we get it wrong this time, we'll reform ourselves to do better the next. How 'bout that? In fact, we'll make it a crusade. Happy now?"

Clearly the trap of thinking within the walls of that asylum ensures we'll get it wrong every time: it does nothing to understand the last mistake and provides no understanding of how to confront the next. And that's why overthinking the problem in the model and vocabulary of our institutional machinery leads to underthinking: it traps us within abstractions created to define, contain and separate problems that decompose easily along those lines, not to solve an unusually thorny problem that crosses firewalls. It's primarily an exercise of self-validation, not analysis.

Analysis is never overthinking. It's thinking.

For this it's usually best to go to back to pen & paper, and ponder the basic questions. In our case:

  • Who is the aggressor? (body language)

  • Who is telling the truth? (body language)

  • Who is telling the truth by default? (Terri)

  • Who is better represented when done in person rather than through the words of an interpreter? (like Felos)

  • Who facilitates or impedes the disclosure and free flow of information?

  • Who attracts the support of volunteers, and who [only] attracts the support of professionals?
I'm sure I'm leaving some out but you get the picture. :)

Many of these questions are misinterpreted by the "institutional machinery" itself and then answered poorly. For instance: the last question is often smeared by Big Media as prima facie evidence of political activism (or misplaced sympathy), but filter out the activists (and their ostensible followers) and you're still left with an impressive lot. I don't see grass-roots volunteer support of nearly the same caliber in Michael's camp. If he were being honest - and she really were beyond hope and had wanted to die - he'd have just as good a case as does her family (if not more so) for attracting earnest volunteers. But with so many people (including Michael himself) putting the the lie to this charge, it's not realistic for him to expect much "volunteer" support. Or for the press to expect it either, quite frankly.

A comment on telling the truth "by default": It affirms the right of those to be heard who can't speak for themselves. It doesn't necessarily imply they are always "right". What it does mean is that the way in which we assign weight to the testimony of supporters based solely on their relationship to the principal (brother, friend, parent, and so on) - and the matrix of hypothetical "ulterior motives" we have to consider when we're evaluating their credibility - must be adjusted for their side of the argument.

After all: when a brother of Michael speaks for him we have to understand that, since Michael is able to speak for himself, there is embedded significance to the act (i.e., "why is he speaking for Michael?"); but in Terri's case we have no way to make that distinction. If we treat her family with the exactly the same suspicion we do with Michael's family, we're invariably stacking the outcome in Michael's favor. Too often the press has applied that logic without any allowance for the fact that she's trapped inside her own body at an end-of-life hospice, and to this day has remained silent on volumes of information surrounding the night of the incident and her treatment since then: broken bones, injuries consistent with strangulation, deadly injections, and substandard medical care on the ostensible orders of the husband.

When Bobby speaks for her, or her parents do the same, one wonders, why are the media so quick to brush them off? The press may enjoy the faux "justice" of so-called equal treatment, and courtrooms have to presume to treat everyone "equally", but we don't. We are not in a courtroom. We don't have to live by rules geared to simple situations that share none of our dynamics or concerns: corruption, medical [records] fraud, intimidation, collusion, buried leads, and even political intrigue. No, we don't live by those rules. And we don't have to ignore those possibilities either, or abide the idiotic display of fairness that has all but ensured Terri's demise. We live by a much higher standard.

So: the way I see it, this is the Brave Period. Institutional and bureaucratic machinery which until now has been idling comfortably is about to turn on the screws. Metal will gnash against metal, and we may find ourselves doubting everything we believe from time to time, as things we have learned and understood recently are vehemently denied and turned back on the accusers, "reinterpreted" not by those who see the truth more clearly but by those who speak louder. There will be decisions that try our patience and make the whole enterprise look hopeless. But get through it we will, and then we will reach our period of Just Resolution.


Blogger bethtopaz said...

A priest is talking on Fox now. He is talking about her responsiveness up to the end. He is talking about how the only thing that killed her is lack of food and water. He said, "Now we've gotten to the place where we're throwing away the disabled just because somebody said they want to die." Well said. Things must change.

8:08 AM  
Blogger bethtopaz said...

A priest is talking on Fox now. He is talking about her responsiveness up to the end. He is talking about how the only thing that killed her is lack of food and water. He said, "Now we've gotten to the place where we're throwing away the disabled just because somebody said they want to die." Well said. Things must change.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He is talking about how the only thing that killed her is lack of food and water."

Dang he's intelligent.

8:52 AM  
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6:35 PM  

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