Terri breathes her last
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - April 2, 2005 - 12:00am
Hours before word was relayed to the world by electronic means that Terri Schiavo had passed away, I received this email from my best friend in Singapore, Flory Maslog. It says: I agree with your column on the Schiavo case. A few years ago, my sister-in-law and I knelt down and prayed at a hospital chapel where my brother was dying of liver cancer and many other complications. He would look at me and beg me to let him go. He was in so much pain. Our doctor would ask us if, when the time came, would we be willing to insert a support tube on my brother? After about an hour of prayers and discussion in the chapel, we decided we would not.

The time came, but I was in Los Baños when it did. In spite of what we had already decided, my sister-in-law called me up if she would still allow the doctor to insert the support tube. My brain was saying no, but my heart could not say it. I just told her yes, at least for one day. Then I rushed to the hospital. It turned out that even before the tube was inserted, my brother was gone. I cried a lot over his death but I was glad he was no longer in pain and that he went away on his own not because of our decision to let him go.

Just last month, Cris and I saw the movie, Million Dollar Baby, and I agreed 100 per cent in principle, with what Clint Eastwood did to his suffering protégé – removed the tubes and let her go. What I’m saying is, yes, it is easy to decide on other people’s cases, but difficult when you have to make a decision on a close relative.
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And so Terri Schiavo is gone. But her death does not mean the end to acrimonious fighting among her relatives and politicians in the United States over the question of one’s right to live. As Flor Maslog says, it is not easy letting go of a relative no matter his pain in being kept alive. From our distant vantage point, we look at Flor’s brother, and at Terri Schiavo, as deserving of being released from their state of nothingness. There are of course those who believe that euthanasia or mercy killing is an immoral act, which is why religious leaders looked upon the court decisions granting Michael Schiavo’s request to pull off the plug and not reinserting it on Terri’s body as plain and simple murder. In our culture where a good many still demonstrate love and caring for their old and debilitated parents, the sympathy is with the parents of Terri who had gone and been rejected six times by the courts on the pleading that Terri had the right to life. Only the exorbitant cost of keeping life support systems would influence their decision to let the patient go. Terri had been confined in a hospice in Florida for 15 years, most of which doctors said, were spent in a persistent vegetative state. For those of us who like to believe that life must be lived actively, and meaningfully, it would be merciful to cut the artificial lifeline that allowed her to breathe in and out, but not experience the meaning of being alive, of being able to move her little finger, wiggle her toes, shake her head, jump out of bed and rush to the beach, lift a spoonful of porridge to her mouth, smell and taste a scrumptious piece of apple pie. What kind of existence is it when one has to be spoon-fed, one’s adult diapers changed by a caregiver, when one lies in bed for 15 years, unable to go to a Bible study, or hug a child close to one’s breast, sing a lullaby, listen to Beethoven, laugh and scream at aspirants to the American Idol title, or read Omar Khayam beneath the bough, with one’s husband at one’s feet and feeling that is paradise enough?

Terri reminded us of life’s evanescence, of our dying one way or another. When thinking about why good people seem to die ahead of many of us, I hark back to the first lines I read about death when I was 11 Augusta Evans in her novel Saint Elmo. The good die young but they whose heart is dry as summer dust burn to the socket. Then, I tell myself I am still here, a senior citizen, with a heart not as dry as summer dust, undergoing treatment for a frozen elbow, but able to savor life’s joys and heartaches and dream of spending the rest of my life in the family farm in Gingoog.

But there is a recurrent wish among us all that we die in dignity, peacefully if at all in our sleep, not by the sword of a deranged houseboy, or run over by a wayward bus. And many women are there who prepare for their last physical appearance, choosing the dress they should wear to the grave, their makeup done as though they were happy and at peace. Many are those who prepare their last will and testament, to prevent bitter fighting that end in the courts among the inheritors. Some have pre-paid memorial and cremation plans to make sure the family is not taken advantage of by unscrupulous funeral parlor salesmen.

And there are those who write the words to be inscribed on their tombstones, or who express the things to be said about them in eulogies at their memorial service.

The curtain falls on the saga of Terri Schiavo, but the struggle over the question of who decides to keep and take one’s life away will remain unsolved for a long, long time. Maybe never.
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E-mail: dominimt2000@yahoo.com

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