Why revisit this controversy now? Scanning the 13-paragraph article for an answer to my question, I find the NYT variation on my question in Paragraph 7: "What, if anything, is the enduring legacy of this painful episode?" In the middle of the next paragraph, I find a key:
[W]hen she was in the news almost daily, there was a discernible increase in the number of Americans who prepared living wills and comparable directives, according to groups like Aging With Dignity, a nonprofit organization that supports end-of-life wishes.The Terri Schiavo case was effective, like nothing else we've seen recently, in pushing people to sign those documents that will enable medical personnel to shunt them beyond that resource-consuming hospital bed. In these days of aging Baby Boomers and awareness of how we're all paying for everybody else's medical care, there's a growing interest in attaching "living wills and comparable directives" to all the pre-corpses of America.
Perhaps some politicians have learned a lesson: that these life-or-death decisions are probably best left to families and, should irreconcilable differences surface, to the courts....Yeah, "perhaps"! I notice the phrase "death panels" does not appear in the article. There isn't even a mention of the Affordable Care Act and the recent congressional foray into the field of health care. The Act made it through Congress on the narrowest possible margin and it nearly died over the question of facilitating death.
And here's a second key to why the NYT is revisiting Terri Schiavo now:
Larger questions remain, affecting an estimated 25,000 Americans deemed by doctors to be in a vegetative state. Complicating matters are studies like those reported last week by a team in Belgium and earlier by Adrian M. Owen, a British neuroscientist working in Canada. They have found through brain-imaging techniques that residual cognitive capacity may exist in some people classified as vegetative.That's phrased awfully delicately, don't you think? What if people start to disbelieve the story that Terri Schiavo was an unburied corpse, with a liquefied brain, tended over by sentimental parents who resisted the straightforward facts delivered by doctors? What if the scientific consensus breaks down because of actual science and we learn that those 25,000 Americans are still in there, longing — some of them anyway — to return to this life? What are we willing to spend to try to bring them back?
If everyone would sign the relevant documents before entering this state, the rest of us will not be asked these questions, because the assumption will be that whatever longing persists in the persistently vegetative is longing for death.
By the way, the NYT article begins and ends with literary riffs on the name Schiavo, which is Italian for "slave." Paragraph 1 portrays Schiavo as a metaphorical slave — "slave to an atrophied brain... slave to bitter fighting.. slave to... court hearings... to politicians...." And the last paragraph ends:
[T]he woman born Theresa Marie Schindler had no control over the powerful forces that controlled her own fate. Just as if she were a schiavo, a slave.Is that poignant or maudlin? "Slave" was the name of the man who fought for her death. Schindler was the name of the parents who fought for her life. And slavery is a profound topic unto itself. Should it be repurposed as a metaphor? It's a facile metaphor, the literal meaning of the woman's married name, and it degrades the meaning of the word "slave," because lying inert in bed is not much like slavery, which is forced labor. Slaves are human beings with minds capable of making decisions who are deprived moment-by-moment of the autonomy that belongs by right to the human mind.
Terri Schiavo's freedom and autonomy were accorded profound respect. Her problem was her incapacity to form or communicate her choice. That's terribly sad, but it is not slavery.