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Examining Metaphors in Biopolitical Discourse
Unformatted Document Text:  Metaphors in Biopolitics, page 26 closely-related metaphor “brain-dead” work together in particularly salient ways. While “vegetative” in this sense refers to “an organic body capable of growth and development but devoid of sensation and thought” (Groopman, 2007), vegetable is a biological category that cannot be accurately applied to a human being or any other animal (vegetables lack central nervous systems) and therefore is unavoidably metaphorical, as most people who use or encounter this metaphor are likely to recognize. When the phrase “vegetative state” is used, as in the legal battles surrounding Theresa Schiavo, the implications of vegetable as a life-form lacking a central nervous system or any ordinary animate responses are applied to the patient as if they were literal descriptors, and vegetative state becomes an under-the-radar metaphor. A revealing exemplar emerged in the Schiavo case. Terri’s husband, Michael, sought to have life support withdrawn in 1998 (Kollas & Boyer-Kollas, 2006). Terri, who had been diagnosed in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) after suffering oxygen loss from cardiac arrest in 1990, became the centerpiece for “unprecedented involvement of the state and federal legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government” (p. 1146). The issue captured tremendous media attention and brought issues surrounding life, death, morality and politics to the populist front, and has been called “the most extensively litigated [case] in American judicial history” (p. 1146). Thousands of news and magazine articles, broadcast stories and editorials were generated surrounding the legal battles that culminated in a federal district judge’s decision to uphold Michael Schiavo’s request to remove the feeding tube. 3 Philosopher Slavoj Žižek readily equated the case with biopolitics, noting that discourse “focused on a single case of prolonging the run of NAKED LIFE, of a persistent vegetative state reduced of all specifically human 3 Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005.

Authors: Coleman, Cynthia-Lou. and Ritchie, L. David.
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Metaphors in Biopolitics, page 
26
closely-related metaphor “brain-dead” work together in particularly salient ways. While 
vegetative” in this sense refers to “an organic body capable of growth and 
development but devoid of sensation and thought” (Groopman, 2007), vegetable is a 
biological category that cannot be accurately applied to a human being or any other 
animal (vegetables lack central nervous systems) and therefore is unavoidably 
metaphorical, as most people who use or encounter this metaphor are likely to 
recognize. When the phrase “vegetative state” is used, as in the legal battles 
surrounding Theresa Schiavo, the implications of vegetable as a life-form lacking a 
central nervous system or any ordinary animate responses are applied to the patient as 
if they were literal descriptors, and vegetative state becomes an under-the-radar 
metaphor. 
A revealing exemplar emerged in the Schiavo case. Terri’s husband, Michael, 
sought to have life support withdrawn in 1998 (Kollas & Boyer-Kollas, 2006). Terri, who 
had been diagnosed in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) after suffering oxygen loss 
from cardiac arrest in 1990, became the centerpiece for “unprecedented involvement of 
the state and federal legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government” (p. 
1146). The issue captured tremendous media attention and brought issues surrounding 
life, death, morality and politics to the populist front, and has been called “the most 
extensively litigated [case] in American judicial history” (p. 1146). Thousands of news 
and magazine articles, broadcast stories and editorials were generated surrounding the 
legal battles that culminated in a federal district judge’s decision to uphold Michael 
Schiavo’s request to remove the feeding tube.
  Philosopher Slavoj Žižek readily equated 
the case with biopolitics, noting that discourse “focused on a single case of prolonging 
the run of NAKED LIFE, of a persistent vegetative state reduced of all specifically human 
3
 Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005.


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