I remember seeing this story on the news in the 1990s – the tragic battle over Terri Schiavo. Terri was a young woman who was found unresponsive on the floor of her home, rushed to the hospital and revived. She appeared to have suffered severe brain damage, and the doctors labeled her as being PVS – in a persistent vegetative state.
Her husband Michael and her family waited for her to recovery, but she never did. Eventually her husband requested that her feeding tube be removed, and that she be allowed to die. Her family greatly objected, and a legal battle began that lasted for years.
Terri’s parents insisted that although she was brain-damaged, she was definitely not brain-dead or vegetative. They produced video footage of her looking at them when they spoke to her, trying to speak, etc. The feeding tube was removed then put back in many times as the case moved through courts and appeals. Eventually all the appeals ran out, the feeding tube was permanently removed, and Terri Schiavo died a week later of dehydration. Her ordeal had lasted from 1990 to 2005, fifteen years.
The story was horrifying when I saw it on the news years ago, and it was horrifying to read about so many year later. There were – and are – people who feel strongly on both sides of the issue of whether to prolong the life of a severely brain-damaged person by tube-feeding or whether to withhold the feedings and let the person die.
As I read the book, I felt the most sorry for Terri, having so little cognitive ability but seemingly being somewhat aware of what was happening to her. She could do nothing for herself, and had to totally rely on the nursing staff and family for her care. This was a nightmare situation that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.