Permitted to Die?

Before I get going on this, I want to say – without further explanation – that discussing life and death decisions in cases like this (particularly wrt a feeding tube) is very painful for me right now. So for this post I have disabled pings and comments.

I am somewhat encouraged by Congress’s and Bush’s intervention in the Schiavo case. But as I was reading this article, something kind of jumped out at me:

[Michael Schiavo] has fought for years with his wife’s parents over whether she should be permitted to die or kept alive through the feeding tube.

Look at the way that’s worded: Should she be _permitted_ to die, or _kept_ alive? “Permitted to die” is calculated to imply that the natural, peaceful course of events would be her death, that it’s what she wants to do, and we are artificially stopping it. “Kept alive,” by contrast, suggests active involvement that is thwarting the natural course of events.

Now I could maybe – _maybe_ – agree with this wording if she were on machines that kept her heart beating or kept her breathing. But a _feeding tube_?

If we were to imprison a man and refuse him food and water, would any sane person describe that as “allowing him to die”? After all, it doesn’t take any action on our parts. He’s already locked in a cell – allowing the cell to remain locked is a passive thing. It takes effort to bring him food and water, so can we describe that as “_keeping_ him alive”?

What about an infant? If a mother put a baby in a crib, walked out, closed the door, and never went back, would you describe that as _permitting_ the child to die? After all, a baby is incapable of getting food even if he is not restrained.

George Orwell discussed in _1984_ the importance of language. The words you use affect the things you are able to think. We are losing this battle.

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