The Right to Die

I don’t know what Bob and Mary Schindler go through on a daily basis. I can’t even begin to imagine the heartbreak of watching a child waste away before their eyes, and, God willing, I’ll never learn.

It’s been 15 years since their daughter Terry Schiavo was left in a vegetative state. Capable of breathing and nothing more, Terri’s existence hangs on a feeding tube. Respected physicians believe that there is no hope for recovery, that Schiavo is essentially brain-dead. Even in the wake of this news, the Schindlers continue to press for their daughter’s survival.

However, husband Michael Schiavo has battled for ten years to allow the courts to remove this tube from his wife’s body and let her die. Is it her final wish, as he believes? Only Terri knows — and she’s not talking.

Can I empathize with Michael for wanting to move on with his life? Absolutely. After seeing his wife lay immobile in care facilities and hospices, I’d understand why he wants to make his peace and let her go (he already has a child with another woman). What of the selfish motivations bandied about (money, revenge, covering possible spousal abuse)? Unimportant — his covenant with his wife is his business.

Can I see where the Schindlers appear to be in denial about the long-term prospects of their child, almost to the point of delusion? Considering they have other children, yes. As awful as it is to let a son or daughter go, looking after the family that’s still alive should be just as important.

But this is a personal matter, so it’s really none of my business how this “scandal” plays out. At least it wasn’t until it transformed into an epic battle for state rights as well as a moral crusade — all courtesy of religious conservatives.

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I don’t know what’s more absurd — that the Congress is attempting to usurp state judiciary power with this cynical ploy, or that President Bush, the man who is directly responsible for similar state-sponsored executions (he signed the Texas Futile Care bill into law while serving as governor), is saying judges and law should now take a stand in support of life.

Bush rushed back to Washington from his vacation to sign a bill transferring the Schiavo case from state to federal courts. Why? Does he actually care about the woman he and the majority of House Republicans are racing to keep alive?

Doubtful. An ABC News report stated that “talking points circulated among Senate Republicans [explained] why they should vote to intervene in the Schiavo case. Among them, that it is an important moral issue and the ˜pro-life base will be excited,’ and that it is a ˜great political issue — this is a tough issue for Democrats.'”

What does that even mean?

Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear Schiavo’s good Samaritans on Capitol Hill are using her solely as a political pawn. By ramming the bill through Congress, anyone who actually reads the Constitution looks hard-hearted when voting to let a woman die. Democrats quickly become the party of death while Republicans can wrap themselves in insincere compassion and pity.

Fortunately, people are seeing through the façade. Around the world, surveys and opinions strongly agree the decision to prolong Schiavo’s life is a mistake.

An ABC poll declared that “seventy percent [of those canvassed] deemed the congressional intervention inappropriate, while 67 percent said they believe lawmakers became involved in the Schiavo case for political advantage rather than the principles involved.” The same poll stated that the majority of Americans believe removing the feeding tube is the right thing to do — including many Catholics, a religious affiliation heavily courted by the Bush Administration.

Commentators across the Atlantic were far more biting:

“The political onslaught around the life of U.S. coma patient Terri Schiavo has assumed a monstrous dimension,” Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung said. “The Conservative majority intends to influence citizens’ most intimate decisions … and thrust personal liberty into a moralistic-religious corset.”

“Any court rulings which do not fit into [George W. Bush’s] world view he simply stops with a new law,” echoed The Neue Presse. “His world view is shaped by the religious right in the U.S. — fanatical believers who are on a crusade against homosexuality, euthanasia and abortion.”

This time it won’t work. Public perception against the governmental appeal of Schiavo’s life is decidedly negative. And one would think that Christians would embrace the case on the side that supports her right to die — Schiavo’s soul has been sitting in her body for 15 years, waiting for release. Why deny her that? What does Terri have to gain by staying trapped in shell that no longer reflects her inner righteousness?

And while I can almost stomach pandering to an audience (that’s what politics is all about, right? It’s certainly not about effective public service), I am enraged that Congress and President Bush would take this chance to suck yet another responsibility away from the states.

States have waged a losing battle against their rights for years. They lost representation in the federal government when senators were no longer elected by legislature, they’ve been forced to take up the financial burdens of a woefully inadequate antiterrorist department and they’ve absorbed a huge amount of federal debt by being forced to pay for public services the U.S. is under obligation to pay. States have autonomous rights irrespective of the federal body; that’s the whole reason the U.S. government was set up the way it was.

Now the president and his sycophants in Congress swoop in during the middle of the night and assert federal powers because it’s good public relations? Ridiculous and improper. The Schiavo bill is bad for state government because it only addresses one person, not the hundreds of similar cases throughout the nation and offers no guidance. It only sets up a confusing pseudo-law that does a disservice to every other person in this nation.

The case of Terri Schiavo’s life was determined many times in many proceedings in the state of Florida. As morally or ethically offensive as you find the verdict, it was carried out by the laws of that state. The federal government has no right to step in and presume the wishes of Schiavo’s family — no matter how much good press it gets.