I’ve been interested in the Terri Schiavo case since the previous attempt to starve her to death but I’ve been remiss in commenting on the latest developments–mainly because my opinion hasn’t changed. Persons in a vegetative or near-vegetative state do not retain any abstract desire to die from their pre-vegetable days, so living wills are beside the point. You cannot make a suicide pact with your future self.
It’s all well and good to respect the desires of the dead when it comes to cremation or inheritance, all other things being equal (which they sometimes are not), but it’s a whole different matter to leave instructions to other people to kill you. Suicide is a natural right only the individual can exercise, and that right (such as it is) ends where your ability to follow through ends. If you can’t kill yourself, then you can’t kill yourself. Terri Schiavo may be able to roll her head but she can’t kill herself, so she has no right to die.
What happens to vegetables doesn’t matter to them; it only matters to us. The public’s squeamish kill-her-already attitude is the most surprising part of Terri’s case, and the least appropriate reaction of them all. Take my word for it–Terri doesn’t mind the publicity. She doesn’t care if you squabble about her autopsy by her deathbed. It doesn’t matter whether she would have minded, back when she had a mind. Terri is no longer her own problem–she’s ours, and Congress should be making a federal case out of it. At some point we do need to decide whether a husband has the right to starve his ailing wife to death. Our legal system is based on case law, and this is a case and a half.