Speaking to reporters at a Florida Republican Party conference recently, Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and candidate for the Republican nomination for President responded to a reporter’s question on whether he believed my sister Terri Schiavo deserved Congress’s intervention to stop her court-ordered 13-day death by starvation and dehydration. Dr. Carson’s response? “I think it was much ado about nothing.”
Not only was his remark offensive to my family, but his words served to marginalize hundreds of thousands of medically vulnerable persons in jeopardy of being killed in the same barbaric manner that Terri was killed by starvation and dehydration.
But Dr. Carson didn’t stop there.
Perhaps just as disturbing were his comments regarding how he would have treated those who experienced brain injuries similar to Terri’s: “We face those kinds of issues all the time and while I don’t believe in euthanasia, you have to recognize that people that are in that condition do have a series of medical problems that occur that will take them out,” explaining that “your job [as a doctor] is to keep them comfortable throughout that process and not to treat everything that comes up.”
In 1990, at the age of 26 years old, Terri experienced a still unexplained collapse while home alone with Michael Schiavo, who subsequently became her guardian. It was just a few years later when he lost interest in caring for Terri (he was living with his fiancé and stood to inherit Terri’s million-dollar medical trust) unilaterally deciding to “not treat” Terri’s UT infection. If Schiavo was permitted to withhold antibiotics to treat Terri’s infection, she would have died a painful death by sepsis. Nevertheless, Dr. Carson’s comments suggest his approach would have been similar to Michael Schiavo’s. Indeed, Michael Schiavo’s decision not to treat a simple infection that would have surely “taken Terri out”.
Sadly, many of our candidates, as well as the vast majority of the general public, don’t realize the true nature of what is at stake when irresponsible comments like this are made towards Terri and all of the vulnerable persons she represents, let alone the larger issue.
Dr. Carson seems to have realized this in attempting to walk back his controversial comments in an email to LifeNews.com: “I regret that my recent comments about Terri Schiavo have been taken out of context and misinterpreted. … When the patient is not terminal, as Terri Schiavo was not, the treatment plan should be determined on the basis of the consensus between the family and the healthcare providers.”
I have deep respect for the accomplishments and commitment Dr. Carson has shown for life. But our family remains deeply troubled that in seeking to clarifying his remarks, he has not unequivocally condemned what happened to my sister. In fact, his suggestion that simple “consensus” among family members and healthcare providers could justify what happened to my sister is problematic. If I had agreed with Michael Schiavo to starve and dehydrate my sister to death, would that have made it right?
Contrary to what the general public believes, Terri’s situation was not about someone’s “right to die,” nor was it an “end-of-life” issue as was so often reported. Terri was a healthy young woman with a brain injury. She was not dying, she did not suffer from any “killer” disease. She was neither on machines nor “brain dead”. To the contrary, Terri was alert and interacted with her friends and family, before Michael Schiavo subsequently abandoned his wedding vows, warehousing Terri in nursing homes, eventually petitioning the court for permission to deliberately starve and dehydrate his wife to death.
My sister’s case was arguably one of the most egregious violations of an American citizen’s basic human rights in our nation’s history. The way it stands now, heinous criminals on death row and domesticated animals—and often wild animals—have more protection and are treated with more dignity than people like Terri. Congress saw this and intervened to protect her.
But the bigger picture is that Dr. Carson’s comments play into the hands of all those who believe human life has become an economic issue. As both a Christian and a world-renowned neurological surgeon, Dr. Carson should clearly voice support for Congress and what their efforts represented. Indeed, a deadly mentality has infiltrated our current curriculum taught in our medical schools, responsible in part for the breakdown of our health care system, and the growing assisted suicide movement. Not to mention the propaganda spewing from many in our mainstream media. Every word takes its toll.
Consequently, families have to fight, just as our family did for Terri, to get their loved ones the proper care and treatment they require. My fear is that Dr. Carson’s comments will be used to validate an already influential movement that works tirelessly to make it easier to eliminate brain injured persons from our health care system.
Without life, all other rights are meaningless. We cannot compromise on this issue, especially when it comes to the man or woman we elect to the presidency. We must have elected representatives who will fight for the dignity and value of all persons.
I welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Carson to share with him some of the thousands of stories of the marginalized brain injured and medically vulnerable that the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network assists.