Thursday, July 28, 2005

Australia's own Schiavo 

For all their many commonalities, the United States and Australia do have different cultures; a fact that becomes apparent whenever controversies involving contentious moral and social issues erupt in our two countries. What in the United States would lead to a media frenzy, an almost non-stop TV coverage, not to mention books and mini-series, and generate political storm on the op-ed pages and in the legislatures, in Australia barely raises an eyebrow. Depending on one's point of view this is either a very good or a very bad thing, but a useful reminder, nevertheless, that even among the countries of the Anglosphere there can be substantial - although arguably in practice not very consequential - cultural differences.

Maria Korp is in a Melbourne hospital in a coma. She has been in that state since mid-February. A few days ago, Public Advocate Julian Gardner has made the decision to halt artificial feeding of Mrs Korp through a tube. He justified his decision on the grounds that "[Mrs Korp] is somebody who is not being sustained by the feeding... Her body is no longer able to process it (and) her injuries are so horrific that they are making it impossible for her to live even with this treatment." It is expected that Mrs Korp will die within the next two weeks.

The story of how she got to that point is sordid, indeed.

Explains "The Age": "It fell to [the Public Advocate] to [make the decision to disconnect the tube], as her legal guardian, because of terrible conflicts of interest for the next of kin who might usually make such a decision. Her death could lead to a charge of murder being laid against her husband, Joe, who faces charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and intentionally causing serious injury."

Maria Korp, a 50-year-old mother of two, disappeared from her home in outer suburbs of Melbourne in early February. Four days later, she was found in the boot of her car, assaulted and left for dead. She's been in a coma ever since.

It has been subsequently established that Maria Korp and her 47-year old husband Joseph have sometime before her disappearance joined an internet site for swingers. But unbeknownst to Maria, her husband has also been playing online by himself - he had started an affair with a woman he met via the same website, 38-year old Tania Herman.

Not long after Maria Korp was found, Joseph Korp and Tania Herman have been charged with attempted murder, and conspiracy to murder. Herman pleaded guilty to attempted murder, having confessed to the police that she had ambushed Maria Korp in the garage of her family home and strangled her with a strap, allegedly on Joseph Korp's instructions. She is now serving a 12-year sentence. Joseph Korp is still awaiting his trial, but he's denying any involvement in the attempted murder of his wife.

Maria Korp has not recovered from the assault and Victoria's Public Advocate found himself force to make a life or death decision:
Mr Gardner also felt he had to reveal private details to explain that Mrs Korp's condition was not stable and she was not being sustained by feeding — her body was rejecting food naturally. He had acted on the advice of two separate teams of doctors that she was dying... [As he said] "It is not like Terri Schiavo who could be maintained for years."
Letting nature take its inevitable course, or the state finishing what Maria Korp's attacker did not manage to? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, while the story keeps making the nightly news, it hasn't generated much heated debate. Today, two of Victoria's Catholic bishops are questioning the Public Advocate's decision, but the public remains largely disinterested. Australia, being a significantly more secular society than the US, the attitudes to issues like abortion, euthanasia or gay marriage - all big battlefields of American culture wars - are much more "liberal." And so, Maria Korp keeps dying in silence. Whether it's a dignified silence, or a shameful one, is a matter of opinion.


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