Youre Going to Die

I'm surprised Republicans didn't solve the Terri Schiavo matter this way: have Katherine Harris or another Floridian colleague give up her congressional seat so Jeb Bush could appoint Schiavo to fill out the term. Embedded in the Senate—tubes and all—Schiavo would have been beyond the reach of the law, as well as a daily comfort to the brave souls who saved her. Tom DeLay could've moved her arm for her whenever it was time to vote, since he so clearly knows what she wanted.

Senator Schiavo! She listens! She can't be bought! Hell, why not PresidentSchiavo, since George W. Bush hasn't exactly set the bar very high? An egg yolk is right more often than he is.

At this writing, I have to keep checking the TV every 15 minutes to see what new Constitution-cooking stratagems are being attempted to keep Schiavo among the not-living. As it's looking now, unless Jeb Bush swoops down on a vine and carries her off to his jungle retreat, Schiavo will have had her opportunity to leave this mess behind by now.

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But she responds to light! A plantresponds to light, schmuck. Photosynthesis or retinal impulse does not constitute sentience.

The case the religious riot has made for "saving" Terri is that maybe she was still inside there, that her being brain-dead somehow doesn't mean "Ug, brain-dead." But to me, the possibility that some particle of her self might have remained is the greatest justification forletting her die.

Even if any of the politicians who claimed this was a "rights of the disabled" issue were sincere, it was callously presumptuous to think they "spoke for the speechless." None of us is in a position to imagine what it's like to be trapped in a body you can't feel, with only a haunting hole where your sense of self used to be. Maybe you notice the bedsores or that it gets light, then dark, then a long time later it gets light again, then it gets dark, though that might get old after the 5,475-plus days that Schiavo has endured it. Maybe all that's left is a desperate, endless claustrophobia, with no way out. Ever read the Harlan Ellison story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream"?

On the other hand, maybe it was happyland in there, and she was like an opiated teddy bear in a dreamy place full of hugs and Bible stories. Maybe it's a gustative adventure to get your nutrition through a tube. "Say, isn't that a hint of riboflavin in the afternoon drip?"

I don't know. I'm not in her head. I can only reason and guess what it's like. I suppose I'd listen to what the person closest to her said her unequivocal wishes were. For the rest, there is only a sure knowledge of what I'd desire in her place.

I would want to die. Kill the brain = kill the zombie. Take me out.

Is there a grand afterlife? Nothingness? No matter, I'll take it. Eternal damnation? Don't believe in it. If I'm wrong, I'll send a post card.

"I'm the one that's got to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to." Jimi Hendrix said that, and Republicans felt that way, too, back when they were the party of small government, states' rights and individual liberty, before they started believing they had a mandate to use the U.S. government to shove a cross down our throats. Forget that Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." These guys bring a battering ram.

Our leaders blessed with Bible-vision are imposing their selective interpretation of scripture on the rest of us. The government is giving hundreds of millions of your and my tax dollars to religious organizations, while the Justice Department is spending millions more to assert those organizations' "right" to discriminate against persons who don't share their beliefs. Convicts enrolled in "Christian" prison programs get preferential treatment, early release and job placement over non-professed Christians. Jesus apparently never mentioned abortion or gay folks—he was busy castigating moneylenders and the rich—but you'd never know it from these guys proposing constitutional amendments and appointing judges. Conservative congressmen are drafting legislation to control what you're allowed to see on cable and satellite—you know, the stuff you payfor because you want it? And now they won't even let the dead die.

For honoring his wife's wishes, Michael Schiavo has been vilified by pious assholes hundreds of miles from that hospice room (including Tom DeLay, who'd pulled the plug on his vegetative dad after only 28 days). In an interview last week with the St. Petersburg Times, Schiavo responded, "To make comments that Terri would want to live, how do they know? Have they ever met her? What color are her eyes? . . . They don't have any clue who Terri is. They should all be ashamed of themselves."


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Let me tell you a little bit about when someone you love is dying, though nothing anyone says prepares you for the blunt truths and slow horror of it. My stepdad, who was a full-on dad to me, was dying a few Christmases ago, and I went up to spell my mom, who had been home-hospicing him. How she had managed on her own is beyond me.

My stepdad had a Missouri-mule constitution, but his body was riddled with cancer, congestive heart failure, ruined lungs and the other balloon payments of living the good life. Brain tumors, surging pain and opiates had reduced his speech to delirious fragments and moans. Every so often, there'd be a flicker of consciousness.

His once Santa-sized face had shrunk to the bones and was fixed in the agonized grimace of a Tragedy mask. He was still a sizable man, hard to move to clean, and what little consciousness he had left rebelled against the indignity of such care. He was past eating; any waste was just his body sloughing off dead cells. The hospice people said even water was a strain on his failing system, and we could only give him a corner of a damp washcloth to suck on like an infant.

I slept in the room with him, but there was no sleep in it. Nights were worst for him. He'd toss and cry out. In his more lucid moments, he'd struggle to stand, with a terrified voice gurgling, "I have to get out of here!"

I touched him more then than I had in my whole life, with a hand on his forehead or gripping his hand so he'd know someone was there. The house had a funereal quiet to it, so I put on sounds that had comforted him in life: the liturgy of stock prices on the financial network or his one goddamn Dixieland record.

I discussed with my mom the idea of putting him out of his misery. She'd taken an oath when she'd been a nurse never to take a life and asked me to promise not to, either.

So it went for a few more days. He died while I was out shoveling snow, and I was grateful. The last coherent thing he'd said to me was "You're a nice man," and I'd hoped he would have still felt that way if I'd put a pillow over his face. I had resolved by then that there was nothing—not in our laws, culture, mores or even a promise to my mother—that would have kept me from putting him beyond his suffering that night.

The horror I felt even contemplating that was hard; to actually do it would have haunted me forever. But it would have been cowardice to do otherwise. There was nothing left for him here but pain and the solitude when even selfhood abandons you.

Maybe there is something gained from suffering and helplessness. Living through those days, it occurred to me that the only thing that matters at all when you die is that you are loved. If you have that, you did okay. When you're in the void and helpless to help anyone else and people are still caring for you and loving you, maybe that gets the point across. Maybe that's life's final lesson.

But you don't need 15 years to get the point! You don't need Tom DeLay making sure you bear every last possible second of misery. If DeLay had a time machine, my bet is he'd go back and prolong Jesus' time on the cross, too. The son of a bitch is so sanctimonious he probably thinks God paid for his golf junkets to Scotland.

President Bush says we should err on the side of life. Aside from the utter hypocrisy of this coming from Mr. Preemptive War himself (not to mention Mr. Flawed Death Penalty, Mr. Mercury Poisoning, etc.), he also seems to forget what life is. The majority of Americans get it: among other things, life means dying on your own terms, not the ones an intrusive government sets for you.

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