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Congress, the Courts and the Terri Schiavo Case

I don't know what the right and moral decision in the Terri Schiavo case would be. But I do wonder about people, on both sides of the issue, who are so sure that they are right about what should be done.

We need less passion and more compassion here, and we need to realize that as humans, we are all fallible.

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Fort Lee, N.J.

Much that has been written about the Terri Schiavo case has generated more heat than light. Some medical facts may help clarify the issues:

• PVS, or "cortical death," is the irreversible loss of the part of the brain controlling judgment and insight. Once cortical death occurs, personhood as we know it is gone.

• PVS victims open their eyes to light and will be startled at loud sounds.

• A PVS victim can be seen as a casualty of modern medicine -- able to jump-start a heart but not a brain. PVS is an unnatural state.

• Rarely, a PVS victim will "awaken," showing signs of communication, but he or she remains helpless -- blind, paralyzed and without short-term memory in varying but severe degrees of impairment.

• Withdrawing a feeding tube causes dehydration, not starvation. A feeding tube is artificial life support; there is no enjoyment of food. Drugs such as morphine can help keep the victim comfortable and peaceful during the dying process.

• Keeping a PVS victim "alive" usually costs more than $100,000 annually, often at taxpayers' expense.

Most neurologists encourage termination of life support when the diagnosis and prognosis are clear. Extending "life" causes an unnatural lack of healthy, spiritual closure for the family.


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