Many feel media played too large role in Schiavo debate

Friday, April 1, 2005

Terri Schiavo had no way of expressing herself. Her brain was damaged. Her life, in what doctors called a vegetative state, was supported by a feeding tube.

She was as powerless as a newborn baby.

Yet in the last two weeks this woman, described by doctors as being in a vegetative state, sparked a national conversation about life and death.

"I think it's pretty complicated and that the media shouldn't have played the role that it did," said Andy Abernathy, a 21-year-old college student from Sedgewickville. "It's more of a private matter. It should be about what's best for the individual and their family."

Callie Nelson, 44, from Denmark, Tenn., was visiting Cape Girardeau Thursday. She said she thought the courts made the right decision in siding with Schiavo's husband, Michael.

"As a mother, I understand where the parents are coming from," she said. "But there is a lot said between a husband and a wife that is not shared with other family."

Sam Ladwig, 57, of Patton, Mo., disagreed. Since she'd already been kept alive for 15 years with a feeding tube, he said it should have been left in.

"To all of a sudden decide to stop it, I don't feel that's right," Ladwig said.

A couple of local hospice nurses who deal with imminent death on a regular basis thought the national media played irresponsible roles in their reports.

Judy Aslin, the Southeast Hospice administrator, said she saw a poll that suggested an overwhelming majority of people said the tube should be removed.

"But mostly what you heard was on the other side," she said. "I even heard one reporter say 'This poor woman is going to die' like he was inserting his own opinion into the comments."

Helen Sander with the Visiting Nurses Association said that she thinks the media largely overplayed the suffering that's involved with removing a feeding tube.

In situations she deals with where death is close, Sander said dehydration actually reduces the suffering. The first day, there is some discomfort with a growling stomach, she said, "but after that, it's peaceful."

She said if other life-support systems are removed and the feeding tube is left in, the patient will begin to make gurgling and rasping noises because the body can't deal with the fluids.

"Dehydration is a good thing at the end of life. It makes passing so much easier."

Others have gone as far as to say Schiavo was murdered. The case has further illustrated the fine line between the right to die and the right to life.

The Rev. J. Friedel, the director and chaplain of the Catholic Campus Ministry at Southeast Missouri State University, said he believes in both rights.

That's why he has been reminding students he comes in contact with to talk with family members and complete advance directive forms about how they want to die if they're ever in Schiavo's situation.

Friedel said he hasn't taken sides in the Schiavo case. He said he thinks the situation is more complicated than what has been made public, and it will take time and deeper thought to truly grasp the issues and complexities orbiting the case.

"I'm remembering Terri and her family in my prayers and hope that after all she's been through and has experienced in the last 15 years, she's now experiencing peace and wholeness," Friedel said.

"I do believe," he continued, "that unfortunately we do live in a culture that only values life if it produces a certain way, if it's wealthy and healthy and has got political clout. I think that's a big mistake and I do think life needs to be revered."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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