A man with cerebral palsy, named Joe Ford, has written an excellent article for the Harvard Crimson on American attitudes toward the disabled and how this attitude relates to the Schiavo case.
The result of this disrespect is the devaluation of lives of people like Terri Schiavo. In the Schiavo case and others like it, non-disabled decision makers assert that the disabled person should die because he or she—ordinarily a person who had little or no experience with disability before acquiring one—“would not want to live like this.” In the Schiavo case, the family is forced to argue that Terri should be kept alive because she might “get better”—that is, might be able to regain or to communicate her cognitive processes. The mere assertion that disability (particularly cognitive disability, sometimes called “mental retardation”) is present seems to provide ample proof that death is desirable.
Essentially, then, we have arrived at the point where we starve people to death because he or she cannot communicate their experiences to us. What is this but sheer egotism? Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this is obviously an attempt to play God.
I know people who relate being terrified of retarded people when they were kids. I knew a retarded man from the time I was very small, and never have experienced that fear. I confess to being sometimes uncomfortable, though, with people who are severely disabled. But I wonder how many people would support putting Terri Schiavo to death for no other reason than people in the state she’s in make them uncomfortable. The fact that so many people are willing to make the decision that Terri’s life is not worth living, without knowing her or even what exact condition she’s in, makes me believe that a great many people have taken the position they have for that reason. They don’t want to have to deal with that pain, or be helpful, supportive or compassionate, and so they decide for someone else that their life is not worth living. And like the Nazi doctors quoted in the article, they will believe that they are being compassionate by ending the life of someone in such a state, regardless of the wishes of the person in the state.
Terri’s life is worth living, whatever condition she’s in and whether or not she ever gets better. Life is a blessing from God, and she’s not dead. Not yet, anyway.