There is no right answer in Schiavo case

Nothing is impossible.

So, before I delve into the complicated situation surrounding Terri, allow me to tell you the miraculous story of Terry. Terry Wallis.

In 1984, a then 19-year old Wallis had what he needed: a loving family, a spouse and a newborn baby daughter. Everything was perfect as can be. Everything was also different as can be.

1984 was the year Apple introduced the Macintosh computer. It was the year the Gremlins and Ghostbusters hit big screens nation-wide. It was one of many years defined by the Cold War era.

So when Wallis and his two friends drove their pickup truck through a rail and off a 25-foot bluff (one died, the other escaped without a scratch), few thought Terry had any chance of coming out of his coma.

In 2003 he did. Wallis spent 19 years alive and 19 years in a vegetative state. The family saw encouraging signs: in the three years prior to his awakening, Wallis had learned to grunt and blink his eyes to respond to questions, and show basic emotional responses. But the day his mother drove 26 miles from their Big Flat, Arkansas home, he surprised her with the greatest gift of all; he said “mom”. Soon after, he learned “Pepsi”, then, the day before Father’s Day, “dad” re-entered his vocabulary.

But not everything is perfect. Wallis has permanent brain damage that affects his short-term memory and slurs his speech. He remains paralyzed. Worse, he still believes it is 1984. Ask him who the president is and he’ll respond, “Ronald Reagan.” Which is why it makes perfect sense that for many of his 19 dark years, Wallis’s parents felt that perhaps it would have been better had he passed. “I thought it might have been best…for him, not for me,” said his father. His mother agreed: “It has crossed my mind, several times, probably.”

Now let us focus on Terri Schiavo. She’s been comatose for the better part of 15 years. All the politicking is shameful, and the family situation unfortunate. Nobody knows what would happen if Terri Schiavo were kept alive artificially. Nobody knows why exactly her husband wants her to die-or why her parents want her to live on. Perhaps she could make just as miraculous a recovery as Wallis. Perhaps better. Perhaps not at all.

To see a family member as only a shell of her former self is devastating. To watch it from afar is painful. But what should be a family matter has exploded into a national issue, between pro-life and pro-euthanasia, between congressmen and between family members. Certainly, the way things are looking, Terri will remain on feeding tubes until every legal obstacle is exhausted. That should give her husband and her parents plenty of time to try to understand each other better, to communicate and to recognize that they are linked together by the love they share for their daughter. To be fair, if fifteen years haven’t led to a truce between the two sides, then maybe it will never be realized.

Of course, nothing is impossible.

Ben Minkus can be contacted at b.minkus@umiami.edu.

March 25, 2005


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.