May 22, 2005

Joan Didion on Terri Schiavo.

Didion finds many interesting angles to the story. Her focus is not legal, but personal and psychological. She examines not just the motivations of Michael Schiavo and the parents, but also the motivations of all of us:
We do not know how many minutes Theresa Schiavo spent in cardiac arrest. It was later generally reported that this arrest was a "heart attack" caused by a potassium deficiency. The potassium deficiency, it was widely suggested, had been caused by what was sometimes described as "bulimia" and sometimes, more generally, as an "eating disorder."

This suggestion persisted, carrying with it a hint of the disapproval often expressed toward people in unfortunate circumstances who can be suspected to have had bad habits. The "bad habits" serve in such cases to isolate these unfortunate circumstances from our own. Patricia J. Williams, in The Nation, striking this not uncommon note, spoke of
the bizarre events played out in the name of force-feeding Terri Schiavo, a woman whose bulimic aversion to food was extreme enough to induce a massive systemic crisis that left her in what doctors describe as a "persistent vegetative state."

Theresa Schiavo, in this construct, had for whatever reason played a role in her own demise, meaning that what happened to her need not happen to us.

However comforting it may have been to believe this, the suggestion (no diagnosis exists) of an "eating disorder" appears to have been entirely assumptive, based on no evidence beyond the unexceptional facts that she had some years before gained weight, gone on a diet, and lost the weight.

There's much more in the article.

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