Sunday, March 27, 2005

IT SHOULDN'T COME AS A SURPRISE (Tom DeLay's well-known hypocrisy being what it is) that he joined in a family decision to end life support for his own father, Charles DeLay, in 1988, when DeLay was a 41-year-old junior Congressman. DeLay's father was a drilling contractor; a freak accident at his home caused brain damage so severe that the doctors treating him told the family there was no hope for recovery. The accident occurred in the fall of 1988 and was similar in many ways to Terri Schiavo's situation. Both Schiavo and DeLay suffered overwhelming brain damage; both could not have continued living without being hooked up to life support; both were diagnosed by their doctors as being in a permanent vegetative state with no hope of recovery; both lacked a living will; and both had expressed verbally their wish not to be kept alive by artificial means if there was no hope of recovery.

Here are the differences between the two cases:

  • Terri Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state, and on life support, for 15 years. Charles DeLay was in a vegetative state and on life support for 2 or 3 months when his family decided, after being told there was no hope for recovery, to disconnect the ventilator and feeding tubes that were keeping him alive.
  • Terri Schiavo has been the focus of litigation in state courts, and a highly public battle involving Schiavo's parents and husband for 7 years; and, more recently, Congress, the President of the United States, a notorious anti-abortion activist (Randall Terry), and mobs of ordinary people from all over the country massed in front of the hospital where Terri Schiavo resides. The DeLay family tragedy was handled in complete privacy, with only the doctors and Charles DeLay's closest loved ones involved in making medical decisions for him.
  • When his father experienced severe brain damage and it was clear that he would never recover, Tom DeLay along with the rest of his family decided he would not want to live that way even though he did not have a written living will, and they ended all life support after a few months. When Terri Schiavo became a public cause over the issue of whether she should be disconnected from her feeding tube after 15 years of being in a vegetative state, the same Tom DeLay pushed a law through Congress to allow the federal government to intervene to keep her alive; the same Tom DeLay publicly stated that removing Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube was "murder"; and the same Tom DeLay loudly and contemptuously excoriated Ms. Schiavo's husband for fighting in the courts to allow the hospital to disconnect his wife from life support.

Charles DeLay's widow -- Tom DeLay's mother -- said, "There was no way [Charles] wanted to live like that. Tom knew — we all knew — his father wouldn't have wanted to live that way." Which makes me wonder again about that difference some of the bloggers writing about Terri Schiavo have noted about how differently society reacts to severely injured or ill women with no hope of recovery and severely injured or ill men with no hope of recovery. A number of bloggers have noted the fact that most if not all of the highly public battles over ending life support have involved women. Now that we have an actual example of a man in this situation, it seems that it was much clearer to his family that this man would not have wanted to live for the rest of his life in a vegetative state.

Naturally, Tom DeLay and his associates are trying to do damage control by denying any similarity between his father's case and that of Terri Schiavo.

"The situation faced by the congressman's family was entirely different than Terri Schiavo's," said a spokesman for the majority leader, who declined requests for an interview.

"The only thing keeping her alive is the food and water we all need to survive. His father was on a ventilator and other machines to sustain him," said Dan Allen, DeLay's press aide.

And that makes a difference, how? "We all" don't need to be connected to feeding tubes to get the food and water we need to survive. The point is, Terri Schiavo cannot feed herself because she has no conscious awareness, no thoughts, no volition anymore. There's no meaningful difference between being connected to a feeding tube because you cannot live without one and being connected to a ventilator because you cannot live without one.

We all need air to survive, too.

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