The phrase “a life or death matter” has been tossed around so much that it is probably a bit clichéd; however, in the recent saga of Terri Schiavo, it is quite appropriate.
For more than two weeks prior to her death last Thursday, the entire world has had their eyes glued to weather or not Schiavo, who suffered severe brain damage 15 years ago as a result of an eating disorder, would have access to the feeding tube which had sustained her. Schiavo’s husband Michael claimed that his wife expressed a desire to not be kept alive artificially while the woman’s parents used to the fact that those wishes were not officially documented to fight Michael’s attempt to have the feeding tube removed.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to be kept alive artificially — no tubes for me. I want to go when my time comes. Take the tubes and everything out,’” George Felos, an attorney for Michael Schiavo, told reporters after one court session, according to CNN.
Schiavo’s parents countered by stating that Terri was not in a permanent vegetative state as her husband had contended and likened the tube’s removal to murder.
“When I close my eyes at night, all I can see is Terri’s face in front of me, dying. Starving to death,” Mary Schindler, Terri’s mother, told reporter after a hospital visit.
Those differing perspectives led to over seven years of legal battles that culminated when under the watchful eye of the entire nation, a Florida judge ruled that Michael Schiavo had the legal authority to have Terri’s tube removed. The issue drew so much media attention that it caught the eye of several politicians, including Florida Governor Jeb Bush, before leading by a campaign by national Republicans to call for an unprecedented federal review of a state ruling. That bill was voted on by a special Sunday night session of the House of Representative and signed into law by President Bush early on March 21.
However, despite the review, federal judges reached the same conclusion that their state counterparts reached: in the absence of a living will, Terri’s husband was legally entitled to have the feeding tube removed.
Of course, black college students have opinions on the matter as well. Some, like Gina Presley, a sophomore biology major at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., said that agreed with the judge’s decision.
“The family decided to get the courts involved to save their daughter who has been brain dead, but they’re really being selfish and just don’t want to let go.”
Brooke Fortson, a senior psychology major at Howard University in Washington, D.C, said that she too thought that the judge’s ruling was correct and did not think the case should have been a political matter.
“The reason the feeding tube hasn’t been reinserted was because the judicial process was done properly,” Fortson said. “Congress’s involvement [seemed] unconstitutional to me. Once the court makes an order that should be it. If you have a problem with the court’s decision you can appeal it.”
Others said that they were surprised with the amount of media attention the case has garnered.
“Its not like there has never been situations where a patient was considered brain dead or incapable of living without hospital aid and the relatives had to decide whether they should cut of the life support or remove the feeding tube,” Ashley Williams, a sophomore chemistry major at Howard, said. “This case was exploited by the media because they knew that they could use the parents of Schiavo as sympathetic figures in order get the public to watch.”
Some even went as a far a suggesting that race played a factor in the amount of media scrutiny for Schiavo. Presley said that if Schiavo was black, she would have been a footnote on the national radar.
“We never get as much coverage,” Presley said.
Williams agreed with Presley’s sentiments.
“As a whole, America does not want to hear about a black woman straddling the line of life and death,” Williams said. “America does not care enough about blacks.”
Presley also said that she did not think that a black family would have allowed their dispute to play out before the entire world.
“A black family would have never gone as far as to get the courts involved in the first place,” she said. “We’re not as educated on the judicial process as we should be as a people, so I feel like we never would’ve taken the necessary steps to get to that point and I also feel like were more religious and would’ve put things in God’s hands from the beginning by letting nature run its course.”