Like Terri Schiavo’s Death, Starvation of Eluana Englaro is Painful Not Dignified

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 8, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Like Terri Schiavo’s Death, Starvation of Eluana Englaro is Painful Not Dignified

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 8
, 2009

Rome, Italy ( — Eluana Englaro is dominating worldwide news coverage because of the potential she could be killed in a painful starvation and dehydration death in the same manner that killed Terri Schiavo. One bioethicist says the media is wrongly deceiving the public into thinking it is a peaceful death not accompanied by pain.

Wesley J. Smith, a noted author and attorney based in California says his survey of the mainstream media articles on the battle over Englaro’s life show "an attempt, yet again, to make death by dehydration seem benign."

Smith cites an AFP news story quoting an attorney for the disabled woman’s father, who won a court order to take her life by depriving her of food and water, who claims Englaro would only be involved in a "gentle death."

"It always fries me when they call dying by dehydration a ‘gentle death,’" Smith responds.

He added: "It reminds of when Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, told reporters when she was on the verge of dehydration, ‘Frankly when I saw her . . . she looked beautiful…In all the years I’ve seen Mrs. Schiavo, I’ve never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her.’"

Smith said Terri’s anguished brother Bobby Schindler painted a more accurate picture of the painful medical and physical ailments Terri endured from having her feeding tube removed when he said blood was pooling in his sister’s eyes because her tissues were so dry.

Although the public normally doesn’t see the deaths of patients like Schiavo and possibly Englaro to see for themselves the gruesomeness of it, Smith says even some backers of removing feeding tubes acknowledge what happens.

He cites Ronald Cranford, an enthusiastic supporter of dehydration who testified in support of ending the lives of Nancy Cruzan, Michael Martin, and Terri Schiavo, who described the process in sworn legal testimony.

As quoted in Smith’s book Culture of Death, Cranford described how, seven to nine days into the dehydration process, patients "begin to lose all fluids in the body, a lot of fluids in the body. And their blood pressure starts to go down."

"Their respiration may increase and then the patient experiences what’s called a mammalian’s diver’s reflex where the blood is shunted to the central part of the body from the periphery of the body. So, that usually two to three days prior to death, sometimes four days, the hands and the feet become extremely cold. They become mottled. That is you look at the hands and they have a bluish appearance," Cranford said.

"And the mouth dries a great deal, and the eyes dry a great deal and other parts of the body become mottled. And that is because the blood is now so low in the system it’s shunted to the heart and other visceral organs and away from the periphery of the body," Cranford added.

Smith, in his book, also quotes pro-life neurologist William Burke, who also described the dehydration process.

"They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the dryness of the mucus membranes and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining," Burke explains.

Smith says those descriptions "refer specifically and only to people who are not otherwise terminally ill and are dying from being intentionally deprived of sustenance due to cognitive disabilities."

"They do not apply to the situation in which a patient is dying naturally and the body is shutting down as part of the dying process, at which point people often stop eating and drinking. In those cases providing tube-supplied sustenance can be medically inappropriate and cause unnecessary suffering," he explains.

But possible with Englaro, as was the case with Terri, the death process from having fluids and foods removed is nothing the public would want to endure if they knew the facts — something for which Smith says there is no excuse.

"One thing is sure: No one can say anymore, ‘I didn’t know.’"

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