A heartrending letter from a brave and noble woman

Here’s some of what’s being projected on to Terri Schiavo.

The lead-in to my MS-NBC Connected Coast-to-Coast appearance involved a correspondent from the Vatican reporting on the extraordinary interest the Catholic Church has taken in the Schiavo case, with front-page coverage two days a row in L’Osservatore Romano, followed by an interview with a professor of theology at Seton Hall who has served as an advisor to the Pope.

The point of both segments was to draw a strong parallel between the Pope’s struggle with Parkinson’s and Terri Schiavo’s situation. When I came on, I stressed what I understand to be the utterly conclusive medical evidence that Terri Schiavo cannot now be aware of herself or anything else.

Later this morning I received an email that, in addition to showing me an important public face of this case, choked me up.

The writer is a stranger to me, so I know no more about the situation she describes than is contained in her note. It, and my response, are reprinted below: with her permission, of course.

I have a 30 year old son John, who became head-injured at the age of 8. Unlike the Schindlers, I’ve been fortunate to have my son home with me all these years.

From the onset of my son’s injury, we noticed that the doctors who were treating our son, were more

concerned about our emotional state than my son’s. Even though John was clearly saying some words which were entirely appropriate to a situation,they would tell us that it was just a coincidence. I don’t know how that was supposed to make sense, but that is what was happening.

We’ve also had doctors ask us if we would like not to have him treated for pneumonia. My all-time favorite doctor is the one who was repeatedly called by a nurse who kept telling him that my son had a blood clot in his leg. It wasn’t until she threatened to go to the authorities that he showed up and put him on blood thinner. It appears that since John was not having the quality of life that they approved of, that his life wasn’t worth living.

My purpose for writing of course is help educate you to what’s going on out there as far as the doctors are concerned. My son is still saying some words and is more alert than Terri appears.But every injury is different.

Unless these doctors are mindreaders, there is no way that they can prove that Terri is not a thinking human being.

I replied:

Dear :

Thanks for your thoughtful note. Your courage in the face of your son’s injury is heartening. I think that much of the movement to keep Terri Schiavo alive is based on the notion that her situation is like your son’s.

However, the medical evidence is otherwise. The brain scans clearly show that the entire cerebral cortex has been replaced by spinal fluid. No mindreading is needed to know that someone who no longer has a cerebrum is no longer with us.

So likening her case to your son’s — or to the Pope’s — seems to me both natural and profoundly mistaken. Terri Schiavo is gone, and isn’t coming back.

Yes, some doctors can be cold-hearted, as I discovered when my father was ill. But that doesn’t mean that every doctor is wrong, or that we should ignore what the brain scans say.

Very truly yours,

Mark Kleiman

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com