We can all learn lessons from the Schiavo case | SummitDaily.com
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We can all learn lessons from the Schiavo case

MARC CARLISLE

Fifteen years ago, 26-year-old Terri Schiavo’s heart stopped, causing a severe loss of blood and oxygen flow to her brain, leaving her in a vegetative state. Day by day, her mind and body deteriorated further and Terri, if she was indeed ever aware of her surroundings after her heart stopped, was unable to communicate, and could not be fed orally because she might choke to death. A feeding tube was inserted directly into her stomach so she could receive fluids and nutrients, and over the years her husband Michael and her parents took her inert form from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital in an effort to improve her condition.Terri, like most 26-year-olds, did not have a living will either spelling out her wishes for her care in case of accident, or designating someone who could make those decisions for her. Eight years after his wife’s heart attack, Terri’s husband Michael went to court to ask a Florida judge to decide whether Terri’s feeding tube should be removed. Using the highest possible standard of proof possible in Florida civil cases, and employing the clear bias required by Florida law toward erring on the side of life, the judge ruled that Terri’s feeding tube should be removed because she would have wanted it that way.

Terri’s parents fought the judge’s ruling, and in 18 subsequent court rulings, including three rulings by the Florida Supreme Court, every court agreed that the feeding tube should be removed. The Florida legislature and the governor, Jeb Bush, dissatisfied with the court results, passed “Terri’s Law” empowering Jeb to force the reinsertion of the feeding tube. “Terri’s Law” was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider either the law or the case.Faced with a March 18, 2005, deadline for what could be the third and final removal of the feeding tube from the inert frame of Terri Schiavo, Congressional Republicans engineered a special session of Congress to pass legislation allowing a Federal judge to step in this week and review the prior rulings requiring the removal of the feeding tube. President George Bush made a special trip back from Texas to Washington to sign the new law; ironically, the federal judge who heard the case this past Tuesday refused to require the reinsertion of the feeding tube.Faced with a painful, personal decision about his wife’s future, Michael Schiavo asked a judge not to appoint him guardian, but to take the decision out of his hands and decide directly, based on the evidence, whether Terri would have wanted to “live” in a vegetative state.

No doubt Michael never would have believed that his Republican governor, the Republican legislature of his state, the Republican majority in Congress, and the President of the United States would choose to play politics with the life of his wife in such a brutal, callous fashion. Terri Schiavo is not the only person in a vegetative state, inert, immobile, with no hope of recovery. Yet, rabid Republicans seeking to portray themselves as “pro-life” for the unborn and the undead alike, while trying to paint judges and Democrats as “life-haters” and evil, are playing a disgusting form of politics with her situation. How Republicans can claim to embrace the “dignity of life” by turning Terri Schiavo’s situation into a circus is unbelievable. When servicemen are dying in Iraq due to poor equipment, Social Security is on the verge of bankruptcy, oil prices are surging to new records, inflation is on the rebound, the budget is in record deficit, the dollar is weak as a kitten and the trade deficit is soaring, it’s unconscionable that Congressional Republicans found the time for a special session to pass an ultimately unconstitutional law to make Terri Schiavo’s inert form a political football on the national playing field.There are two lessons in all this. If you don’t have a living will, get one – if you believe that your loved ones and not Congressional Republicans should make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable.

And make a note – what’s happening to Terri Schiavo’s body and her husband could easily happen to you. Is this the sort of brutally partisan Congress that America deserves, one that ignores the needs of everyone from farmers to its fighting men to pander to the political whims of its most rabid supporters? You don’t need a “Terri’s Law” to pull the feeding tube on these guys – the next election is in 2006, and don’t you forget Terri Schiavo when the time comes. Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at summitindie@yahoo.com.


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