After nature

The position of Nat Hentoff in his article about Terri Schiavo is surprisingly tainted by the sensationalism that has surrounded this case. Hentoff does not seem to understand that the issue, which should have remained a private one, is who makes the decision in matters of life and death when our medical system enables life to continue long after nature would have terminated it, and when death with dignity is more important than lingering life. In our country, if it is to remain a democracy, that decision must be made by the individual or guardian, not by the government. To permit anything else is a dangerously slippery slope.

Melissa Heath
Atlanta, Georgia



  • Hardline Catholics Get Their Pope
    by Rema Rahman

  • Last week, Nat Hentoff's "Terri Schiavo: Judicial Murder" and Sharon Lerner's "The Schiavo Circus" provoked an unusually large response from readers. A selection of those letters follows.

    No compromise

    I believe Nat Hentoff's article is irresponsible. I do not rely solely on the "misinformation" of the media to form my opinions. After poring through numerous legal briefs concerning this case, I find nothing consistent with Hentoff's charges that due process has been compromised.

    Kevin R. Nelson
    Omaha, Nebraska

    Culture shock

    Nat Hentoff said that the judges should visit Terri Schiavo to make an assessment of her condition. That would be like a neurosurgeon being asked to preside over a court case. That's like Jim Guckert posing as a journalist. I am more than disappointed with Hentoff. I spent 10 years of my life in social work and hospice care, and my heart goes out to those who knew and loved Terri Schiavo. I am not a surgeon and don't pretend to be, but I researched this case extensively. This poor woman wasn't just vegetative; in layman's terms she was "brainless," in that her cerebral cortex had liquefied. For the sake of ethical sanctity, this case had been heard for years, by numerous judges who listened to both sides: Each time they reached the same conclusion.

    People are pulled off life support daily because they are poor—this is documented and true. Innocent people are put to death in prisons—this is documented and true. Our government is cutting programs to the most vulnerable of our population. "Culture of life," my ass; a culture of blaspheming hypocrites is more like it.

    J.P. Abner
    Mussel Shoals, California

    X-tra copies

    I have been following this fiasco for almost five years now. Nat Hentoff's article is the most comprehensive I have found, and I read everything available on the Internet. As a disabled 74-year-old, this type of article rings home for me. I mailed it to everyone on my mailing list with wonderful returns. Some on my list even commented that they were almost ready to agree with the husband's rights, until they read your article and were dumbfounded by the true story. I also printed out copies to distribute to my senior friends. They need to know this info so that they can prepare living wills with witnesses.

    X. Miller
    Houston, Texas

    Disturbed in Frisco

    This is the most disturbing, misinformed rhetoric I have seen to date on this matter. How can Hentoff, who is neither a physician nor a lawyer, proclaim to be knowledgeable regarding both Terri Schiavo's medical condition and the process by which so many state and federal courts have arrived at their collective conclusion?

    Kelley French
    San Francisco, California

    Sonsoles's god

    Hentoff's article is just great. I wish I could disseminate it to the whole world, particularly to the journalists repeating this idiocy of persistent vegetative state. As a doctor, I applaud you. I understand you are an atheist, but you are in the right, and my God will take care of you.

    Sonsoles de Lacalle
    Department of Biomedical Sciences, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science,
    Los Angeles, California

    Down by common law

    Sharon Lerner's article made me feel sick. Does she have any compassion in her? She rambles on and on about the Bushes getting involved. I say, good, at least some people tried to do something. You people that write these "intelligent" articles never seem bothered by Michael Schiavo's having two kids with a common-law wife. (I doubt Terri Schiavo would have liked that!) He seems like a controlling man to me, you know, the kind that Lerner probably protested against during the women's movement. Enjoy your food and your water and your snobbish ideas.  

    Carolyn Higgins
    Duluth, Minnesota

    Their fool support

    As a non-religious conservative Republican, I found Hentoff's convoluted piece on Terri Schiavo to be an excellent example of a journalist writing emotionally on something about which he has not bothered to become educated, apparently. Hentoff decries Judge Greer's decisions because he "has never gone to see her," yet can write with authority about her condition, her responsiveness being "beyond mere reflexes," presumably because he (Hentoff) has gone to see her? He states that "an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists" say she is not in a persistent vegetative state, neglecting to mention that they, also, have never gone to see Terri. He belittles other media as "ignorant" for their coverage because they do not listen to those same individuals, but rather they listen to those who actually have gone to see and test Terri. When a person is unable to eat or drink on her own, it is extraordinary care to provide food and water through a surgically inserted tube, which is a medical procedure! Perhaps some of those arrested should have been allowed to bring her their cups of water. It would have been more humane for her to drown from the water poured down her throat than for her to die a slow death from water deprivation, and her supporters could then have realized what fools they were to believe they knew more than mere doctors.

    T.R. Johns
    Lake Forest, California

    Dogged indifference

    Removing artificial life support or discontinuing extreme measures certainly does not preclude a glass of water. Forget about the death row murderer analogy, how about a thirsty dog?

    Georgia Gibbons
    Rockport, Massachusetts

    Split decision

    Hentoff informs us that Terri Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state and criticizes other media sources for furthering this erroneous information. Her conscious state seems to have been, rightfully so, an important bone of contention. However in the second paragraph of her article, Lerner describes her as "the Florida woman who has spent the past 15 years in a persistent vegetative state."

    So what's the verdict?

    Leslie Huddart
    Kyoto, Japan

    A view to not kill

    Hentoff's informative article changed my views completely on the Terri Schiavo case. I've been described as a conservative liberal, I am pro-choice, and I think people should be allowed to die if they have expressed a desire not to be kept alive by artificial means. But what struck me most was his last paragraph, where he says that Terri could swallow her own saliva and that the courts ordered that no attempts be made to provide her water or food by mouth. An infant cannot feed itself. An infant is capable of eating, but cannot bring food or water to its own lips. In Schiavo's case, apparently her parents were not allowed to hand-feed her. But if they had not hand-fed her as an infant, wouldn't they have been arrested for murder had she died?

    Mina Flores Turner
    Los Angeles, California

    Words to live by

    What happened to this woman only happened because she is unable to speak. If Christopher Reeve had been unable to speak, would there have been so much talk about stem cell research or would the ACLU and others simply have allowed him to die?

    Derek DiCiccio
    Dallas, Texas

    The Bible tells me so

    Re Hentoff's article: I thought I was reading the Voice, not the Post. The general claim is that Theresa Schiavo told her husband that she'd never want to be kept artificially alive. Since we don't have proof, the next step is to follow the legal order of next of kin: spouse, offspring, parents, other relative. This is rooted in old English law. The Bible also dictates next of kin: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Also refer to Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7-8, and Ephesians 5:31 if you want more proof.

    Larry Perera
    Lower East Side

    Election question

    I heard that Michael Schiavo's lawyer may have given a (re-election) campaign donation to the judge that was deciding Terri's fate. Conflict of interest?  

    Helen Procner
    Winnipeg, Manitoba

    The facts of death

    Hentoff is doing a huge disservice to all the families out there with terminally ill members who are, at this moment, making the choice to die, and his characterization of death by stopping fluids and food is not how it goes. I've witnessed it, and in a loving setting there is no bleeding, no vomiting, and no discomfort. So instead of quoting descriptions from one-sided viewpoints and less-than-1,000 opinion polls, why not try the teaching hospitals and the American Medical Association, and get some facts?

    Ann DeMarsh
    Seattle, Washington

    Two weeks' notice

    Too bad you did not push Hentoff's side of the story two weeks ago. Could have had a big impact.

    John Voss
    Roseville, California


    Why has no one noticed that Terri Schiavo's name is an anagram for "Christ Savior," with an extra E. Perhaps it is meant to be "Christé Savior." I predict that she and the pope will die at the same time. One holy man they will do anything to save, one woman named for Christ they are starving to death. I don't understand the world today.

    Kathy Gaudry
    Winnipeg, Manitoba

    Shadow of a doubt

    I do not know for sure if Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, but neither does Nat Hentoff, who has chosen to declare that he knows beyond doubt that she is not in such a state. It is sufficient to suggest that Hentoff has ignored the tough questions, and I do not claim to have answers to them.

    Schiavo is not a unique case. There are many similar cases in the U.S., and it may indeed make sense to prolong life as long as possible. As a political commentator, however, Hentoff has a responsibility to advocate maximum support for all such cases and to specify how that support is to be financed. The Schiavo case appears to have come along at precisely the time when there is no more funding available to support her.

    These issues are very complex, but those who declare themselves moralists unaffected by religion cannot avoid them.

    Frederick Thayer
    Professor emeritus, public and international affairs, University of Pittsburgh

    Dread machinery

    What are we expected to do now, have "warehouses" for extremely old people and others like Terri Schiavo who have no hope of ever recovering, with all those withered and drawn bodies hooked up to whatever machinery makes us feel better for years while children die from treatable illnesses all around us?

    Trudy Crow
    Lyman, South Carolina

    Assume nothing

    This is clearly murder. I am the parent of a profoundly retarded, blind, deaf, and non-ambulatory young woman who is 30 years old. She functions on the level of possibly a three-month-old. She is alive, however. She has the right to remain so until such time as her body can no longer function on its own. Note, I said her body. She needs to be fed too, albeit with a spoon, but if that were not done she could not eat; she needs assistance to drink as well. Shall we allow people to starve to death because they can't feed themselves and can't speak to us? I don't think we can assume that they don't think or feel.

    Eileen DeName
    Sayville, New York

    Redemption song

    I had long ago thought that journalism was beyond redemption. Hentoff has spoken to America regarding the truth in America and I think Ben Franklin and the rest of our founding fathers would be proud. I know I am.

    Jennifer L. Jones
    Fort Worth, Texas

    Scare tactics

    OK, Nat, I don't want to scare you. But what are the chances that someone like you at The Village Voice and someone like me, a pro-life, born-again Christian, graduate of the Citadel, conservative Republican, would agree on an issue such as this?

    Dwight Larkins Sr.
    Lawrenceville, Georgia

    Mysterious ways

    Thank you, Nat Hentoff, for your excellent summation of this horribly sad judicial act of arrogance and premeditated homicide of an innocent human being. The half-truths, blunders, atrocities, and sad ironies in this barbaric act seem unfathomable in our "civilized" 21st-century land of the so-called free. That our Catholic bishops would call a formal press conference to announce their "initiative" to abolish the death penalty in the midst of this tragedy is an incredible embarrassment to many of us and, unfortunately, just another mind-boggling moment in this whole—to quote Terri's mother—"very cruel act." I'm sure you'll understand when I say, "God help us all." The irony of an atheist being the conscience of the masses in this is not beyond God's mysterious ways.  

    Father Francis Stone
    Birmingham, Alabama

    MRI and dry

    The distortion in this piece renders Hentoff's opinion baseless and feckless. Just two examples: First, Terri Schiavo has not had an MRI because she cannot have an MRI. In the early '90s, Michael Schiavo took his wife to California for treatment that included implanting a device in her brain that it was hoped would help regenerate brain activity. The device contains metal and the magnetics used in an MRI could kill Terri.

    As for legal representation for Terri Schiavo, a guardian ad litem has been appointed to represent her interests. Remember, (a) Terri Schiavo cannot communicate with an attorney, and (b) an attorney would answer to no one except Terri Schiavo, who cannot communicate. See the problem?

    Jo Verneuille
    Elk Grove, California

    Hungry like the cow

    At the same time that Terri was being starved, another Florida man (Michael Swails) was being held on $100,000 bond for starving cows.

    David Wood
    St. Louis, Missouri

    Partisan hate

    Lerner writes of "pro-life" as if it's merely a partisan political label.

    Is she so morally lost and consumed with partisan hate that she does not understand that the right to life is one of the inalienable rights bestowed on us by the creator, as affirmed in our constitution? I forgot. As an enlightened progressive—after all, she writes for The Village Voice—she might not believe in the creator, and therefore has a wobbly commitment to the concept of inalienable rights. It is directly because of this secular-humanist philosophy, and those who share it, that Terri Schiavo was tortured to death before our eyes. There will be many Terris unless this heinous crime is stopped. Jeb and George Bush are as at fault as Judge Greer and Michael Schiavo.

    Tom McGuinness
    Sonoma, California

    Her so-called life

    OK, everyone who, if they found themselves in Terri Schiavo's condition, would choose to continue living her so-called life for decades over a peaceful death, raise your hand. If the alternative is slowly dying of thirst, which you may or may not feel, which would you choose? OK, how about a nice massive dose of morphine so you could just be out of your misery, supposing you had any consciousness at all? The latter is the most appealing, to me at least—anyone else? But even with a living will, no one can choose to have access to this most humane of options. So uncivilized, this country.

    Pat Benard
    New Orleans, Louisiana

    Where there's a will

    I don't agree with Hentoff, but now I realize how important it is to legally document my wish not to be forced to live like Terri Schiavo. Unfortunately, I can't just tell my loved ones and let them deal with an excruciatingly painful decision privately without judicial interference. Thank you for reminding me that I must protect myself from people like you.

    Jonathan Vaughan
    Houston, Texas

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