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Right to live is not a court decision

The courts have officially ruled — again — that Terri Schiavo has a “right to die,” and that her husband has the right to decide whether or not to take out her feeding tube, allowing her to starve to death.

Since when does a person’s ability determine their right to live? In my perspective, this fight is not only for Terri Schiavo, but for the right and respect of all people in a disabled state.

Terri’s condition is diagnosed as a “persistent vegetative state” and her husband, Michael, has been lobbying for a long seven years for the right to stop her feedings, arguing that she wouldn’t want to be kept alive artificially though she never made a formal statement on the matter.

Terri’s parents counter their son-in-law for their daughter’s life, in the hope that she may recover, since, despite her obvious incapacity, Terri seems to respond with her eyes and other movements.

It is hauntingly difficult for the lay observer to be completely certain that she has lost all mental capacity forever. She blinks, smiles, recognizes her friends and family and seems to try to talk.

However, most recently Circuit Judge George Greer has set a new date for removal of her feeding tube for March 18, prompting yet another flurry of legal activity to counter it.

This is an issue which hits close to my family, for the simple reasons that I have a multi-handicapped brother, and my sister works as a residential assistant to people who are severely mentally handicapped, some “vegetative” like Schiavo. Because of this, my family is especially sensitive to assumptions made about people who are disabled, never more poignant than the case of the Schiavos.

When my older brother was born, doctors didn’t think he would make it through the night. The first day of his life was spent in four surgeries. Instead of being surrounded by the joyful smiles of his proud parents, his baby pictures show cold machines, dials and tubes.

There is a common argument in euthanasia and pro-abortion when a child is handicapped that killing this child would be more kind than letting it live with the pain he would have to go through in his lifetime. To their thinking, who would want to live in such a way?

I thank God that my parents

would never consider such nonsense, because if they did, my 27-year-old brother would not be around today, beating me at ping-pong and talking to his friends on AIM whenever I want to do homework.

He has more physical limitations than most, but his life is worth the same as mine and yours.

Our society does not value the lives of people who are disabled. People are rushing to create living wills telling their loved ones they would rather die than live dependent on machines.

It is beyond our comprehension that though a person may be limited physically, even in a “vegetative state,” they are still able to laugh and love.

In the same way, since my sister is a residential assistant for people who are severely handicapped, her experience has changed my perspective on people in “vegetative states,” especially in the case of Bill (not his real name).

Bill is in his 40s with the mental capacity of a newborn. He can’t take care of himself at all, yet when you blow on his face, he smiles and giggles. So innocent, so joyful.

Without my sister’s familiarity, I would have seen Bill’s life as a tragic heartbreaking story — maybe even a waste — such as Terri Schiavo’s. However, while his life is different than ours, does this give anyone the right to tell him he’s better off dead?

Just because a person can’t speak or take care of themselves, this doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy life. It doesn’t mean they can’t love.

At all ranges of ability, the life of a person is a gift from God. They teach us, give us new perspectives and most importantly, have inherent worth. Those who suffer a disabling injury are entitled to the same right to life as we are.

In the court’s eyes, it’s time to cut off Terri Schiavo’s food supply and let her die by the slow, brutal process of removing the straw in her stomach and watching her waste away little by little, starving to death. Simply put, that is what is most likely going to happen.

That doesn’t make it right.

Send comments to Jessica at [email protected]

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