Monday, March 21, 2005


Congress is in emergency session to delay the death of Florida’s Terri Schiavo, somehow trumping the efforts of Florida’s Legislature to make the personal political.

Usually a law inspired by an individual has wider meaning. “Megan’s law,” for instance, was named after a victim of a sex offender but compelled sex offenders around the country to announce their presence to neighbors. “Terri’s law,” passed Oct. 21, 2003, had no public benefit. It authorized

the Governor to issue a one-time stay in certain cases where, as of October 15, 2003, the action of withholding or withdrawing nutrition or hydration from a patient in a permanent vegetative state has already occurred and there is no written advance directive and a family member has challenged the withholding or withdrawing of nutrition and hydration.

It was struck down as unconstitutional Sept. 23 of last year, because the Schiavo feeding-tube decision was judicial, not executive or legislative. Gov. Jeb Bush accepted the decision, even though he’d pushed for and signed the law, saying through a spokeswoman that he “respects the role of the judicial branch on issues such as this and the rule of law. And he recognizes the Florida Supreme Court is the final arbiter on state laws, and as such recognizes that the options before us are limited.”

Apparently, one of the options was to go federal. The U.S. Congress is trying to get the case moved to federal court (they’d have to; such courts have resisted getting involved because they too lack jurisdiction) and, in a dire abuse of power, is issuing a subpoena to appear before them for testimony to Terri Schiavo, who has no mental capacity and cannot talk. Despite what Bush said less than six months ago, he is urging his state’s senators to match legislation by the Florida House for a broader Terri’s law, compelling doctors to give food and water to people, such as Terri Schiavo, in persistent vegetative states, unless there’s a living will or specific instructions saying otherwise.

This, at least, is a bill with a wider meaning, more a Megan’s law than a Terri’s law. But once again the conservative mantra of less government interference in people’s private lives is replaced by conservative babble about morality and “the culture of life,” and this only highlights another conservative hypocrisy:

In a culture of life, why not such concern for proving guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt for those on death row? Conservatives want to ensure that hopelessly brain-damaged people stay alive (at whose expense?) but reject the notion that felons can be rehabilitated or exonerated. There have been 119 death row inmates spared since 1973 — with an average 9.2 years spent there by people eventually acquitted or pardoned because of evidence of innocence — and, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, at least five executed despite strong indications they were innocent.

It’s worth remembering the words of another Bush, our president, on Karla Faye Tucker in January 1998. She was convicted of two murders and sentenced to death, but became a devoted Christian in prison. Even televangelist Pat Robertson was lobbying Bush, then governor of Texas, for mercy.

His reply?

“I feel my job is to uphold the law of the state of Texas, and we should treat this case like any other case.”

His take on Terri Schiavo?

He’s rushed back to Washington from a Texas vacation to sign whatever Schiavo-protection bill the U.S. Congress can cobble together.


Anonymous said...

This case has definitely crossed us into Crazy-World.

I don't get what the father is saying about taking his daughter out for breakfast when this is over-- so he can eat pancakes in front of her while she is unable to look away? Does Denny's serve meals for feeding tubes? There is so much I don't get about this. The only thing I do understand is that it's all grandstanding.

Scape7 said...

There's also something teasingly coincidental — though just short of meaningful, I think — in that the Terry Schiavo situation is the result of medical malpractice and a malpractice settlement.

I'm not sure if the Schiavo case played a role, but Florida's 2003 malpractice law excludes persistent vegetative states from a damages cap.