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How can they?

How Can They?

It was deja vu. The Supreme Court ruled recently, like the Missouri Supreme Court some months ago, that the state could "protect" the life of Nancy Cruzan, and that legislatures should make this vital health decision in place of the family. Like Nancy, my daughter Christine, now age twenty, also is in a persistent vegetative state and a patient at the Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon, Missouri.

If the Cruzan family had been succesful, then I would have asked to have Christine's feeding tube withdrawn as well. Iths been more than three years for Chris, myself, her family and friends. All of us who love her would like to see her body finally at peace. The automobile accident took the real Chris from us a long time ago.

I am very angry, shocked, and frustrated that our court system wants to "protect" our daughters from us, as if we were trying to kill them. Can't they see the pain in Joe Cruza's face as he makes a decision that has to be tearing at his heart? Throughout my daughter's life i made many a decision to guide her into adulthood, and now, when she's incapable of deciding for herself, the state wants to take the place of her father. I am angry because with these rulings the courts have locked my daughter into this persistent vegetative condition. Now, I am helpless to save her from this living death.

Sometimes people ask me about my visiting Chris. Walking into her room is like entering a funeral parlor. I know that, as much as I try, I won't get any response from her. Chris has lost so much weight, and really doesn't resemble the daughter I once had. Her right leg is bent so that her knee is forever in the air, and her left foot is frozen in a position that looks entirely unnatural. Her skin is milk white, which reminds me of her mother who died when Chris was just two years old. Chris chews constantly, and gags often on her own saliva. I hate seeing the gastrostomy tube protruding from her stomach. I'll usually cover it with her top. I imagine the awful feeling as the nurses come in every two hours to changer her diaper. They'll turn her then, and that means she's not facing the television. Knowing that she's incapable of realizing what she is missing hurts as well. I sit there for hurs, whispering "I love you," and cry because I never again will get the response that I want. It's torture to leave, I feel so helpless. Most of all, I don't want to remember Chris's body in this condition.

At home I see Chris's picture on the walls in several rooms. And I can remember some scenes when she was so happy, and sad moments after her mom's death. Then I can recall how Chris and her sister Jill would laugh at my corny jokes. Whether times were good or bad I would always end the conversation with the words "that's my girl" and the girls would respond "that's my dad." It was just our way of saying I love you without getting too mushy.

I don't want my memories to be of the intensive care unit when Chris had that awful venticulostomy protruding from her head. I don't want to recall the monitors that hovered over her bed as her intracranial pressure mounted to five times that of normal. I can still visualize the gigantic pin that held her leg in place, and the traction devices for both her left arm and leg. I will always remember sitting with the head of neurology at St. Louis University Medical Center who indicated that Chris would probably not leave intensive care alive. And I still see the faces of the nurses who tried to lift my hopes for Chris's recovery...yet my thoughts are those of seeing her year after year in this vegetative condition.

That's why it is so inconceivable to me that the wise judges we trust to make important decisions for our country can't see what they are doing. Is Chris to spend thirty to forty more years in this "prison?" Would it have been too much to ask for some of these judges to go to the bedside and see for themselves? Had I been the Cruzan family I would have wheeled Nancy into the courtroom, and asked them to "Look...tell us what you see. Is this what you would want for yourself? Would you 'sentence' your daughter or son to 'living' like this?"

In a PBS special aired last December, former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop sided with the Cruzans. He said that if he had been their physician her case would never have reached the courts. With the family's guidance, and knowing Nancy from her visits he would have withdrawn the feeding tube long ago. Another doctor said that major surgery without anesthesia could be performed on Nancy today, and she would be incapable of feeling any pain. Dr. Fred Plum, a well-known neurologist, held a model of the brain and pointed out those areas that make us human beings, and those that merely control the reflexive actions that still exist in Nancy and Chris.

I am baffled that the courts can't see what is so apparent to me, and to so many others who tell me that they would ask the court for permission to withdraw the feeding tube. In a CBS program, even Judge Robertson of Missouri said "no one, absolutely no one, would wish this 'life' on their worst enemy." So, how can he and the Supreme Court judge in this fashion?

Could it be tht Rudy Linares, who held off the medical staff at a Chicago hospital and the police by gunpoint so that he could "rescue" his dying infant from a ventilator, was so much wiser than our courts? Perhaps Rudy knew already that society just wasn't ready to handle the question of "life" versus death. He just didn't want his son to be a prisoner of medical technology.

I will never stop hurting from the tragedy of Chris's accident, and this awful existence that traps her, but maybe I could handle it better if Chief Justice Rehnquist of the Supreme Court and Judge Robertson of Missouri would explain their decisions to me at Chris's bedside.

How can they?

Peter Busalacchi, the father of Christine Busallacchi, a twenty-year-old Missouri woman in persistent vegetative state, lives in St. Charles, MO.
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Title Annotation:"Cruzan V. Director, Missouri Department of Health" right to die case
Author:Busalacchi, Pete
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:Missouri stands alone.
Next Article:On taking substituted judgement seriously.

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