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Playing God: The Terri Schiavo's Tragedy PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 26 March 2005 13:28
I was undecided of what I should be writing about in this week's letter to the visitors of the website.  For the last few weeks, I was mainly addressing the current situation in the country, especially the results of the recently conducted elections. The elections, were hailed by some people as a great success in the way they are going to affect the plans for the reconstruction of the country and establishing the political structure necessary for the emergence of a free, independent, prosperous and democratic Iraq, which would be an example for the whole Middle East.  I have always insisted that the yardstick by which the success of the elections should be measured is by the way the National Assembly tackles its two most urgent assignments namely: The organization of a viable governmental structure and overseeing the process of preparing a permanent constitution for the country.  Today, almost two months after the elections, nothing has happened yet. The country is still administered by a caretaker government and the country has been left in a very serious vacuum, the whole situation is worse.  I was able to make up my mind on this week's letter as a result of a jolt I received with the millions of people all over the world as a result of a decision by a Florida court order to disconnect the feeding tube for Terri Schiavo.  Terri has been in vegetative state for the last 15 years, and she needs the feeding tube to sustain her life.  A tragedy which bore an incredible resemblance to that of my son Nazar, which I described in my March 5th letter on this site under the title of "a message of hope and gratitude".

The brain is a very complex organ, it is the control center for movement, sleep, hunger, thirst and virtually every other vital activity necessary to survival.  It is responsible for all human emotions including love, hate, fear, anger, elation and sadness.  The brain makes us conscious, emotional and intelligent.  The brain has three anatomical components: The large dome on top the cerebrum with its cortex, the smaller cerebellum, and below the cerebrum the brain stem which is composed of several parts including the medulla.  The cerebrum is responsible for intelligence and reasoning.  The cerebellum helps to maintain balance and posture and the brain stem in maintaining the involuntary functions such as respiration and eating.  The brain is a metabolically very active organ, it constantly needs large amounts of glucose and oxygen, the supply of which is critically controlled when only a very slight change and for only very few minutes can lead to serious damage to the brain, but the different parts of the brain react differently to such a situation.  The cerebrum is extremely vulnerable and can stand such deprivation for only very few minutes, whilst the brain stem can survive a bit longer.  If the deprivation lasts long enough to damage the cerebrum but not long enough to damage the brain stem, the individual goes into what is called a vegetative state, when the cerebral functions are affected to a greater or a lesser extent while the involuntary ones remain.  A patient in a vegetative state is critically and very seriously ill, but he/she is not dead.  Death is when the vital functions cease, breathing and circulation and when the brain's electrical activity is irreversibly lost.

A patient in a vegetative state is not dead.  Nevertheless, it creates a great deal of moral, ethical, social and very serious financial problems to the families of the affected individuals.  This situation causes a great deal of stress and frustration in the family and sometimes outright very serious conflicts.  The Schiavo tragedy started in 1990 when her heart stopped beating [cardiac arrest], which resulted from a chemical imbalance due to an eating disorder.  The cardiac arrest lasted for few minutes, but those very few minutes were enough to send her into a vegetative state, which started a terrible dispute between her blood family and her husband.  Terri's husband wanted to disconnect the life saving device, which was keeping her alive.  He thought that it was not needed, because she was clinically dead--a view in which he was supported by some doctors.  On the other hand, her father, mother and the other members of her blood family insisted that she was only in a vegetative state and there was always a hope of her recovering.  A conflict that started a very nasty legal wrangle that lasted for seven years and culminated in the Florida court decision ordering to disconnect the feeding tube on Friday, March 18, 2005, which was tantamount to a death sentence and plunged the United States into a serious crisis and split already highly polarized society and drew the congress and the President into the fray.  Congress returned quickly from its Easter recess and enacted a law authorizing the referral of the case to a higher court a legislation, which was immediately signed by the President who himself has returned back to Washington from a vacation in Texas to stand by for the signing of the bill.

It was hoped that the special legislation enacted under these circumstances would allow the reinstitution of the feeding device at least during the time it was still under litigation, but the courts including the Supreme Court have denied the unfortunate woman that little help.  Terri Schaivo has already been without food or water for about ten days.  The highest court decision has practically sealed the fate of the unfortunate woman, she is in a very serious condition and she might pass away at any moment.

Life is a gift from the lord, he is the only power to bestow it or deny it.  Very sadly, some mortals in the Schiavo's tragedy were usurping that role and were playing God.

Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi
Baghdad, March 26, 2005
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