Thursday, June 16, 2005

Schiavo and the Politics of Denial

The results of Terri Schiavo's autopsy were made public yesterday, and they totally vindicate the claims—viciously attacked as they were at the time—of Terri's husband.

The autopsy reveals that Terri suffered from extreme and irreversible brain damage that made her blind and incapable of any cognizance or interaction of any kind. These revelations prove beyond any doubt that claims made by Terri's parents and other family members that she could see, could recognize voices and could even attempt to speak were false.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the family lied, but rather it points out the incredible and sometimes overwhelming power of wishful thinking in sad cases such as this—a power that sometimes borders on the delusional.

Terri's life is over and the "crisis" has passed; only the delusion remains. While Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, once an outspoken critic of Terri's diagnosis, seems to be backing down, members of Schiavo's family and the religious-right icons who flocked to their cause say the autopsy changes nothing. They put no faith in doctors while Terri was "alive", so it is unsurprising that they scorn conclusive scientific evidence now.

It's easy to see the family's reaction as one of denial brought on by extreme grief. Unfortunately, there are religious fundamentalists in this country who have no qualms about taking advantage of this grief, and using this sad event to further their own agendas. Those who can stare in the face of irrefutable evidence and say, "it doesn't matter," are a danger to public discourse and, in the degree to which they have political power, to this country as well.
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