In this blog, I’ve often inveighed against mixing religion, politics and science. When you allow religious values or politics to determine scientific policy or medical decisions you invariably end up with bad science and everyone in society ends up the worse for it. And so it is in the case of Terri Schiavo. Do I feel for her parents who want her kept alive? Of course. From the photos I’ve seen on CNN, she was a wonderful, vivacious and I’m sure charming person who filled their lives with joy and happiness. But the Terry Schiavo lying in that Florida hospital bed is essentially brain dead according to every informed medical judgment. She is not the same person she was before her accident. She is being kept alive artificially. Her own body cannot sustain her life without the drastic and crude intervention of human medicine.
Life and preserving it is certainly a fundamental value of our existence. No one wants to die and no one wishes to see a loved one die. But let’s face it–we’re all going to die some day. And some of us will die sooner and some later. What is the point of keeping Terri alive in a vegetative state for 30 years until she dies of "natural causes" (which of course will NOT be natural because nature would’ve allowed her to die sometime after her brain stopped functioning)? What is so fundamental and overarching about her case that makes keeping her alive an imperative? I just don’t see it.
When religious fanaticism dictates
medical science life is cheapened
(credit: Jim Stern/ Reuters)
Don’t you just love seeing those Republican hypocrites like Tom DeLay talk out their asses about "the sanctity of life trumping the sanctity of marriage" (remember those bozos telling us about heterosexual marriage being the lynchpin of our society and that there was no more fundamental bond within our society?)? That idiot should know that the law (and not emotion, not religion and certainly not politics) is what determines our actions in disputed cases like these. And the law makes it crystal clear that Terri’s husband is her legal guardian and that a legal guardian, together with the oversight of a judge, can make decisions on Terri’s behalf. And he’s made the decision that Terri would not want to be kept alive in her current state. And what person would want to be kept alive as a participant in a three ring circus with Jeb Bush and Tom DeLay as ringmaster and thousands of swooning pro-life crusaders as her audience?
They pretend to know Terri’s mind and speak for her
(credit: Robert Sullivan AFP/Getty Images)
Those who are prostrating themselves outside her hospice are not showing that they value life. They are making a mockery of this poor woman’s life. What they are really doing is engaging in political theater to make a point that transcends Terri Schiavo. This poor woman is merely a prop for them. They are really aiming for a national stage and flexing their muscle for future fights on abortion and related issues.
Another shocking aspect of this unseemly incident involving government intrusion into a private family matter is that it contravenes a fundamental principle of Republican conservative philosophy. Remember those old saws: get the government off our backs; smaller government, etc.? Well, they’ve thrown all that out the window on this one. Here Republicans are in favor of intruding in your personal life. They’re in favor of Congress creating laws to force an individual to do something against his principles and beliefs. I don’t mind a politician or political movement which at least stays true to its core principles no matter what the issue. But a mark of the utter opportunism and bankruptcy of the Republican position here is that they see nothing wrong with temporarily abandoning one principle if it stands in the way of another.
The New York Times raises another interesting reason for DeLay to jump on this band wagon:
For DeLay, facing inquiries into fund-raising improprieties in Texas and potential violations of House travel rules in Washington, taking a prominent role in rallying conservatives to the Schiavo cause also provided a sudden distraction from his troubles.
I have nothing but admiration for Mr. Schiavo and his lawyer, George Felos, who are begging for reason to set in in this case. Their cries should be heeded:
"It was odious, it was shocking, it was disgusting and I think all Americans should be alarmed," Mr. Felos told reporters in Florida.
And he had a warning for Democrats who would deign to veer from longstanding opposition to federal intrusion in such intimate medical decisions: "If they don’t stand up for Terri Schiavo, they deserve to be the minority party."
Another development that I expect is for these crusaders to rifle through medical files and newspaper articles looking for future Terri Schiavos so they can keep the crusade fresh in the minds of Americans.
The idea that both houses of the U.S. Congress are wasting thousands of hours of taxpayer money conspiring to find a way to make a law that will likely only affect a single case and a single person is repulsive. They should be ashamed of themselves though of course they are far beyond that because they are too drunk on their own moral crusade to think about what Congress should really be doing, which is grappling with the big issues facing our society: war, education, poverty, equal opportunity. Today, I am ashamed of my own government.
One single man – Michael Schiavo – who was married to Terri for 4 years before the “accident”, claims to know Terri’s mind. Ironically, he kept her “wishes” to himself when he was suing for millions to “care for her the rest of her life.” Her family, who have known her all her life, are not permitted to speak for her, and do not believe her husband’s account of Terri’s wishes. Do you think you know Terri’s mind any more than the people in the photo you posted? As Terri never wrote her wishes, nor conveyed them to any other person, isn’t it better to err on the side of life?
Richard Silverstein says
It is, very simply, a legal issue. When you marry someone you create such a bond that, by law, if you were to become incapacitated, would cause your spouse to become your legal guardian. You can talk all you want about what should’ve happened or what would have been a more just outcome or more fair outcome. But if Terri Schiavo or her family wanted Michael NOT to become legal guardian, then they needed to arrange for that legally before what happened.
I know that if I were to become incapacitated I would want my wife (and not my family or my mother) making these decisions as I trust her to make the right ones (while I don’t trust that my mother or family would). And this is the way the law says it should work (a spouse deciding for another spouse). I like the system. If you don’t then you need to spell that out in a living will or similarly binding legal document, or change the law (& I and a majority of other Americans would fight you on this one).
Michael claims that Terri told him she wouldn’t want to be kept alive by artificial means. You don’t believe him but I do (as this would be my own preference as well for myself). But even if Terri had never said that, the law allows Michael to make the decision to terminate treament.
There’s a reason why society works according to a set of laws–because these are the laws that over generations we’ve found work best as a whole for the great majority of people. I’m not saying that there are not times when we wish the law could be diff. or that the law might work awkwardly or unfairly in an individual situation (& I’m not granting that that’s the case here). But the law makes Michael her guardian & gives him the power to make the decision. In addition, a judge reviewed his decision & agreed with him. Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Court refused to intercede. You can’t go much higher than this unless you want to invoke God (your God that is, not mine because mine if fine with this outcome) to make the final judgment.
This manner for making decisions for the incapacitated is standard operating procedure all over this country. If you don’t like this standard you need to change custom & the law (good luck!).
i think you are wrong to be so critical of the other side. i think some of them are sincerely concerned for Terry’s life. u shouldn’t be so harsh in u’re judgement. or the other hand g. bush makes me sick – how many people did he fail to pardon from death as governnor of Texas?
Hm. I have a name for those yutzim, if they should want an additional case to prosecute in the media: Sun Hudson
Or perhaps they’d rather not publicize the fact that their top leader signed into law, in 1999 in Texas, the ability for hospitals to remove care against the wishes of the recipient and/or any caretakers, provided that payment wasn’t available?
If you haven’t seen them, there are three excellent posts on this case: two by Rivka, at Respectful of Otters (one on the medical aspects, one on the ethical ones), and one to which she links, at Obsidian Wings. All three have excellent comment threads, worth taking the time to read carefully.
Richard Silverstein says
Terrific stuff, Bruce. Thanks for linking to those posts in your comment.
There was a great posting on Lean Left that calmed me down a bit (I was furious with Bush for signing that 1999 law… but it seems that it was very carefully crafted and involved a lot of compromise.) It’s a shame that he’s forsaken common sense for politics and grandstanding in this case.
Also, everyone should listen to this interview with a doctor who was temporarily Terri Schiavo’s guardian a few years ago. He has first-hand experience observing her — as he says, he spent hours holding her hand — and he came to the conclusion she wasn’t there anymore.
Anyway, from what I’ve read of this case, it sounds like Michael Schiavo and her parents thought at first that there was hope that Terri could get better through care and rehabilitation therapy. Over time, although the parents still believed that, he came to the conclusion that this wasn’t going to happen. This was after several years of such care and therapy. It seems her brain just deteriorated further.
What a sad story. Unfortunately, there’s not going to be a happy ending, no matter what Congress or President Bush does. It’s not in their power.
Stephen Mendelsohn says
Your blog is displaying nothing but contempt for people with disabilities who are fighting for the right not to be sent to an American version of Hadamar. Six million Jews perished because of the “live not worthy of being lived” ideology first promoted by Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding in pre-Nazi Germany, later borrowed by Hitler, and now adopted by Jack Kevorkian, Peter Singer, and Michael Schiavo. Shame on you for your apologetics on behalf of a woman-abusing, dispability-hating bigot.
Please see http://www.notdeadyet.org and http://www.raggededgemagazine.com
Richard Silverstein says
I just saw Alan Dershowitz on one of the cable “news” interview shows last night facing off with an advocate of Terri Schiavo’s parents campaign to keep her “alive.” When the interviewee starting spewing Holocaust rhetoric Dershowitz (who I usually find a pontificating blowhard) stopped him in midstream: “There’s no place for the Holocaust in this debate and you, my friend, do a disservice to the memory of 6 million Jewish victims by equating this case with them.” That says it all for me.
The political right wing seems to love to misuse the Holocaust for political advantage & that’s precisely what Mr. Mendelsohn does in his comment.
Hundreds, if not thousands of Americans die in precisely the same circumstances facing Terri Schiavo. In fact, my own father had a cerebral hemorrhage ten years ago and was essentially brain dead, though his heart beat independently (much like Schiavo’s). The doctors asked us what we wanted to do. Perhaps, my mother had a hard time letting go of the idea that he seemed alive in the bed in front of her. But we all eventually persuaded her that there was nothing left but the shell of his body. We pulled the plug and he died quickly and peacefully. We could not stand the idea that the vital, loving man we knew might spend another year or two or ten in a vegetative state–and for what? We did the right thing and my father would’ve agreed though he never said so explicitly to me. The Mendelsohn morality police would force my family to keep my father alive for some false future hope that someday he might eventually wake up and be the man he once was.
The only difference between Schiavo and these other thousands of patients on life support is that these other poor dying souls are surrounded by a loving family and hospital staff eager to ease their own pain and the dying person’s suffering. These individuals die peaceful deaths. And they die in tranquility.
It is the Mendelsohn’s of this world who are making Terri Schiavo’s final act upon this earth a circus of morality and political hypocrisy. Let Terri die in peace & dignity (if there can be any left after what Jeb Bush and the Right to Lifers have done to her).
when are the (guilt spewing)parents of terri schiavo going to take responsibility for the harm they have done by creating a bulimic terri schaivo? I hope most intelligent people realize that it is bulimia (and a resulting heart attack) that really killed terri – not a feeding tube (removal).
as a further note – I am so glad I had the right to bar my wifes father from visitation (and to make all life decisions) when she was at deaths door – I know it helped her recover. she even told me that she would have thought she had gone to that other place if she would have woke up to see that……
“If we are to err, let’s err on the side of life.” Does that sound illogical to some of you? It might if you are not aware of the conflict of facts regarding this case. I have been investigating the claims for hours sometimes for the past three weeks; this included reading some court documents (PDF files), both the judge’s decisions and affidavits. I am convinced of an undeniable possibility of foul play, but I will wait for the coroner’s report. The testimony of Dr. Cheshire was disturbingly ignored by Judge Greer. This is most likely what brings up comparisons to the holocaust, because the holocaust did indeed involve doing away with many of the infirm based purely on judicial fiat.
The urge to preserve one’s own life is the most basic human instinct; it is born into us all. I can understand a person wanting to end severe physical pain anyway possible, even if it means dying to end it. That still doesn’t make it an option. With modern medical tech, that’s really not much of an issue anymore. However an urge to end one’s own life based on so-called diminished quality of life is based on a punctured ego that has ignorance and arrogance at it’s core whether anyone will admit to that or not. As long as there is life, there is the potential for recovering purpose and happiness, EVEN THOUGH OTHERS MIGHT NOT SEE THAT.
For me the jury is still out on whether or not a persistive vegitative state truly means death of the real person inside because there is much conflicting opinion between medical professionals as to what constitutes the definition. One thing there is no conflict on: courts do not have the right to decide for others what constitutes a quality life. They can only decide issues of life and death itself, and THAT only under the mandates for the judiciary as described in several places in the U.S. constitution. “Congress shall not deprive anyone of life…without due process of law.” At the time that was written, it was understood that such due process applied only to capital punishment for capital crimes. The idea that it should apply to “quality of life” only came up with the rise of suicide in our country. The coincidence of the two is undeniable.
I caught one of my own errors. The constitution does not relate removal of life to the Congress as I said before, rather it says, “nor be deprived of life…..without due process of law.” This is in the 5th amendment and is generalized without reference to any particular branch of the federal govt. or the govts. of the states. The 14th amendment reiterates this with specific reference to the states.
Richard Silverstein says
Not only does Steve blather on to absolutey no purpose in his comment, he completely misunderstands the legal & medical issues involved in the Schiavo case.
First, “As long as there is life, there is the potential for recovering purpose and happiness” is just plain flat out wrong not only in medical terms but in terms of pure rational understanding of reality. You want to keep every single person who is brain dead, in an irreversible coma, etc. on life support for their entire artifically sustained lives?? Great, please explain to me who’s going to pay for all that wasted medical care? Will you? Will the others in the religious/Right to Life community come up with those billions? No, they’ll make the government, hospitals & medical insurers pay, but the final bill will rest with the American people in the form of higher medical costs & higher insurance premiums.
These zealots like Steve are trying to twist & deform the Constitution so that it will somehow apply to Terri Schiavo (& other future cases they might champion). The legal issues in the case at hand have nothing whatsoever to do with the Amendments Steve cited. The case was decided plainly & simply based on the simple & unassailable premise that a spouse retains the right of legal guardianship of his or her mate unless there is a contravening written directive. This is rock solid law. If you don’t like law, try to get legislators to change it. But even if you do you’ll have to go up against the same judges who clearly told Jeb Bush, George Bush & Tom DeLay that their every legal action in this case has been a shameful violation of constitutional law.
I can only hope that the 70-80% represented in my perspective on this case will never allow the 20-30% of Americans that Steve represents to hijack our Constitution for the purposes of their religious-ideological crusade.