Imagine being without food or water for a week, as people around you watch you die. It's not a hunger strike for some honorable cause. It's not a graceful or painless way to die.
In fact, if these same people watching Terry Shiavo die were to quit feeding a dog or cat simply because they couldn't feed themselves. Those people would be charged with a crime. But this is court sanctioned.
There are some tough questions and perhaps even tougher questions to this dilemma. Shiavo assuredly didn't plan on becoming a controversial figure, or especially not one whom many people pitied.
It might be likely that she would have not wanted to live this way. But she is not brain dead. Like the patient suffering from chronic pain or marching slowly toward the black hole of Alzheimer's, had Shiavo been the one to make this decision instead of her husband and the courts, those helping her would have faced a crime of assisted suicide. How is this any different than using Dr. Kevorkian's machine?
Questions remain about her husband. Why would he not have divorced her long ago and gone on with his life. He has, after all, moved on emotionally with a new family. Is money a motivating factor?
And why can't her parents let go? They lost their daughter long ago. Walking into her room every day had to break their heat anew.
What would happen if we were in Terry Shiavo's shoes? How would our families react? What would we want?
Maybe if anything comes of this private battle that has become a public tragedy, we all can come away a little wiser. We all can learn to prepare for the unthinkable.
The National Attorney General's organization last year promoted end-of-life planning and care. Information is readily available at http://www.nag.org.
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