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Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Ten related thoughts about the Terri Schiavo case I haven't been able to weave into a coherent narrative:

1. Terri Schiavo has been on a feeding tube for 15 years while her brain has been wasting away. The key phrase from this article summarizing the story so far follows:
Judge Greer accepted the testimony of doctors who said Ms. Schiavo, 41, is in a "persistent vegetative state," meaning damage to her cerebral cortex has made her incapable of emotion, memory or thought. Her husband, who was appointed guardian without objection from her parents upon her incapacitation, held onto the hope that Schiavo would recover for over three of those years. Claims that removing the feeding tube would "starve Terri to death" are disingenuous as it strongly implies that she would experience the pain and suffering one normally associates with extreme hunger, which would be absent in this case.

2. Congress passed emergency legislation granting federal courts jurisdiction over the Schiavo matter. And President Bush has signed it. If not in form, this certainly sounds in susbstance like a Bill of Attainder of the sort Congress is forbidden from passing; it appears designed to produce a specific desired result in a specific litigation, and admissions that "We are trying to save Terri Schiavo's life" and other such declarations seem to confirm that suspicion. There isn't a great deal of precedent regarding what constitutes a Bill of Attainder because seldom has Congress even considered doing something like this.

3. The federal courts aren't buying Congress' story thusfar. Congress will keep hunting for sympathetic judges. I can't imagine them actually finding one willing to endorse the dangerous precedent Congress wants to set here. Does Congress plan to regularly intervene in family disputes now?

4. If you don't want to be the next Terry Schiavo, make sure you have a Living Will to deal with these sorts of issues, no matter how young or healthy you may be at this moment. You just know that not a few members, Republicans and Democrats alike, of Congress voted for this "legislation" and ran off to fix their living wills so that, whatever happened, this spectacle wasn't going to happen to them or their family.

5. One exception might be those Republican members of Congress who are or were medical doctors, in which case they offered their diagnoses of Schiavo without even seeing her in person, largely on the basis of a 9-year old videotape. Sen. Frist in particular has destroyed whatever credibility his profession as a doctor should afford him; he pulled this stunt fresh off refusing to say that there is no evidence of transferring HIV through saliva or tears on a television gabfest a few weeks back. Not that lack of credentials has stopped Tom DeLay, who in addition to not having seen her and isn't even a doctor, from claiming that he could "see life in her."

6. The money to keep Terry Schiavo's feeding tube hooked up has come from the proceeds of a medical malpractice award. You know, one of those "frivolous" suits that the Republicans hate so much. It's quite possible that changes to malpractice law (whether already enacted or the additional ones sought by Republicans nationwide) might have precluded this lawsuit, especially considering the award was about $1,000,000, which exceeds caps proposed by some Republican malpractice reform proposals.

7. That internal memoranda about how Schiavo is being used as a political prop is not in any way surprising. Polling data suggesting that this ploy by Bush and the Congress isn't popular - opposed eve by a majority of people who describe themselves as "conservative," with self-described Evangelicals split down the middle on the issue, and opposed strongly by everyone else - is a little beside the point. The Bush people are betting that by 2006, 85% of the public will have forgotten all about Terri Schiavo and that most of the 15% who won't are the hardcore fundamentalist evangelical base. In taking the lead on this issue, Sen. Frist is trying to kiss up to this 15% since he's going to need their support to prevail in pivotal Republican primaries in 2008.

8. What is a little more surprising is that they would push this as aggressively as they have given Bush's past record on this issue. In 1999, Bush signed the Futile Care Law that gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the wishes of the patient's family. And just last week we saw a child die because his feeding tube get removed pursuant to this state law. If one was the cynical sort, one could note that Wanda Husdon and her infant son are African-American and poor, in contrast to a middle-class white woman like Schiavo.

9. Just to be clear, I don't blame the Schindler family for this one bit. I'm certainly not going to tell them to "get over" the fact that she's gone and not coming back. Parents, after all, aren't supposed to have to bury their children. I blame the grandstanding politicians - the President and his brother, Congress and the Florida legislature - who just had to insert themselves into this matter and make a public spectacle out of one unfortunate family being torn apart. I also blame people who write contemptible garbage like this Cal Thomas column and the people responsible for this merchandising promotion.

10. "Culture of Life" (usually meant as a catch all for those who want to outlaw abortion, most stem cell research, cloning, and right-to-die policies) has now passed "Family Values" as my least-favorite Republican catch phrase. I'm at least willing to listen to arguments along these lines from people (like, say, the current Pope, assuming he's still alive) who walk the walk as well as talk the talk, even if I don't necessarily agree with them. However...if you either presided over a triple-digit number of executions in six years or cheered them, started or supported an unecessary war that has killed thousands of innocent people, and would rather see the public sector used to help corporate fat cats than poor children, I don't want to hear a word out of you about America or any other country having a "culture of life."



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