Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Terry Schiavo, the pope, and the definition of a "good death"

(Dovbear touched on this topic briefly, but I beat him to it, only this is the third time I am writing it, and hopefully it will not be eaten again by the blog monster)

No one protested the pope's dying. Why? he chose not to have intensive treatment for his illnesses, treatments that had a good chance of prolonging his life, and of getting rid of the life threatening infections. Lets review the facts as we know them. The pope had parkinson's disease, which affects the movements of the body, and in his case, he could barely move well, and had trouble swallowing and talking.(the tracheostomy tube was so he his saliva would not get into his lungs, and it also made cleaning out the lungs with suction easier). Really bad Parkinsons can have an associated dementia(called parkinson's dementia, appropriately enough) but from all reports the pope was mentally with it. In essence, he had lost a lot of control over his body, but his brain was sharp. Unfortunately, he also was unable to talk or swallow because of the disease.

Infections are usually treatable with antibiotics. They get to be a problem when they are untreated(or undiagnosed) for a while, and then the infection causes organ failure. It would be quite unusual for the infections to reach that stage without doctors noticing. Even at the impending organ failure stage, the organs can be supported, the infection treated, and sometimes people and organs recover. However, it usually takes being on a respirator, maybe going on dialysis(for kidney failure) and having lots of stuff done. At some point along the line, we dont know how bad the situation was, the pope made a decision(or it was made for him???- if the organ failure is bad enough, the brain can be affected as well) not to aggressively support the organs, not to go on a respirator, not to go on dialysis. I have not seen any criticism of this decision. What is the difference between the pope and Ms. Schiavo? lets make a graph

problem. ................................ pope ................... Ms. Schiavo

conscious and brain working.......... assume yes ............... no

has life threatening illness.......... yes ................... no

potential for recovery from. .......... yes ............. n/a
above illnes.

arms and legs working well........... no .......... theoretically yes

awake to be aware of infirmity.......... yes ........... no

making own decision on care. ......... yes ............. no

Has potential for further............ yes ............ no
conscious enjoyment of life.

needs active intervention. ................ yes .......... no
for life to go on.

probable limited life span................ yes ........... no
even with treatment

Summary: the pope had a life threatening illness that needed active treatment, was conscious and aware of how badly his body was not working(potential or actual suffering), and made his own decisions. Ms. Schiavo had no potential for conscious enjoyment of life, did not specifically make her own decision, and did not require active intervention to continue living. In fact, required active intervention to make her die. Are these distinctions enough to account for the vast difference in reactions?

Comments-[ comments.]

4 Comments:

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2:46 PM  
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