Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Schiavo Barbarism

Watching the spectacle of a judge ordering the removal of Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube while calling it a "step in her death process" (or whatever the exact evasive locution was) brought back to mind Churchill’s closing peroration in his Munich speech, which went (I am quoting from memory) something like this:

"We have passed an awful milestone, when the whole equilibrium of Europe [or the morality of taking life in Schiavo’s case] has been deranged. . . And the fateful words will be pronounced of the western democracies, ’Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting. . .’"

Discussions - 24 Comments

Terri has been dead for years.

Right, Walter.

Who is the actress in the videos?

Since when is it a crime to feed a corpse with a spoon?

Why I do agree that taking the feeding tube out was wrong, I do not understand why you need to quote Churchill. I have never understood conservatives’ obsession with this man. I don’t see relevance of the quote with the case of poor Terri. I am afraid that Churchill would not care about her.


What do you know about "this man," Churchill?

Yeah, inappropriate and irrelevant Churchill quote... complete pseudo-profundity.

Looks like the quotation police are onto this thread, guys. Quick, stash your copies of Bartlett’s!

Seriously: Care to explain why it’s so "inappropriate and irrelevant"? Some of us see the FL courts tipping arguably reasonable notions like the right to refuse medical treatment down a slippery slope toward something that’s beginning to look a lot like an administratively or judicially enforced "duty to die."

That such is happening in this case, and that such extraordinary efforts are being required to turn things around (and may yet fail), could indicate that our society has reached a milestone of sorts, and not a good one.

These kinds of issues are very serious indeed. This is why I am depressed at the way that the majority has handled this situation. And it seems that the limited government folks on the right have ceded the field to people who wish to govern by individual cases (not general laws) combined with media spectacle.

A friend of mine had this to say about it:
"In enacting a law whose sole purpose is to overturn a specific state court decision in a private case, Congress is assuming the kind of arbitrary authority which the entire US constitutional system of checks and balances was designed to prevent. It is a giant step towards a system based, not on the rule of law, but on the exercise of absolute power by the party that occupies the White House and controls even a narrow congressional majority." I agree.

I certainly have some questions about the possible motives of Mr. Schiavo, but it is interesting that he had this to say, and conservatives and Republicans of the "keep government small and out of people’s lives" variety (doesn’t that include the NLT gang?) have looked the other way, since this particular action by Congress and the Prez could be a political goldmine -

“This is what Terri wanted. This is her wish,” he said Friday on CNN. The government has “just trampled all over my personal life,” he added. Congress was “getting in the middle of something they know nothing about. And it’s sad. If they can do it to me, they can do it to everyone in this country.”

Also, interestingly, there are 4 hours of OTHER videotapes which show a wholly unresponsive Terri. Neurologists agree that she is unresponsive. She is NOT in a coma, which is distinct from a "persistent vegetative state." There isn’t a single documented case of anyone coming out of a persistent vegetative state. Personally, I don’t know if she should have the feeding tube removed (and I’m not so sure it should have been inserted in the first place) - it’s a complicated case, and I’m neither a medical expert NOR inside of the mind of Terri, her parents, or her husband. But other than the most cynical political opportunism, I can’t see why Bush and Congress should be meddling in this family’s business.

I don’t have any particularly important insights on the Schiavo case, but I have a hard time letting this canard pass: "...conservatives and Republicans of the ’keep government small and out of people’s lives’ variety (doesn’t that include the NLT gang?) have looked the other way..."

Where is the hypocrisy in wanting to protect an individual’s rights? I know of no Republican--or Libertarian, for that matter--who thinks that people who violate the rights of others should be left alone. I think I can speak for most of us when I say that we’d like a smaller government, but not an impotent one.

There is no hope of getting to the truth on this issue. It has been completely politicized, and the media has established these "truths" for us:

Michael Schiavo is a selfish adulterer who wants to get rid of his wife.

Terry Schiavo would be all better today if it were not for her evil husband

The Schindler Family has fought for the rights of their daughter persistently for years, and they have no ulterior motives (fame + insurance money)

Each of these might be entirely true, but the problem is that none of us will really know. I am as pro-life as they get, and I also am entirely against assisted suicide. However, the news is showing us one brief moment on film taken from 15 years of care!

I beg to differ regarding Michael Schiavo’s claim that this is a "private" case. People have a right to life (as I recall that’s mentioned fairly prominently in the public document which underlies "the US consititutional system") even if a family member wants them dead for this reason or that.

If courts are allowed to keep building the pro-death bias illustrated by the Schiavo case into law, we are all at risk.

While this case is very heart wrenching, why is Congress holding special sessions on Terry Schiavo, yet they can’t come together to debate important issues like Social Security. I would rather have Congress’s priority on the good of the country, not one individual. This is a private matter and would have stayed that way if not for the media.

There are obvious public-policy and due-process implications regarding the rights and treatment of the disabled (Terri is not terminally ill, but brain-damaged) involved in this case. Please drop the "private matter" smokescreen and the "debating Social Security" red herring, Lori, and defend your real position, which is that Congress and the US courts should stand by and do nothing while a healthy but disabled woman is deliberately put to death on hearsay evidence whose sole source is a conflict-of-interest-ridden husband whom the state courts have allowed to act as her guardian despite those courts’ own admission that his material interests conflict with hers.

PJC--the private matter issue is not a smokescreen. I am as pro-life as they come, however, I do not think that this should be debated before Congress. I would hardly call a person in Terry’s state healthy. I am not a medical examiner or a politician, but I am a tax payer who would rather our government deal with national issues.

I think that Lori Hahn has made some great points. Why so much hostility in your tone, PJC? I also notice that you’ve built up quite a straw man fallacious argument against her. I don’t recall her writing or even implying that "...Congress and the US courts should stand by and do nothing while a healthy but disabled woman is deliberately put to death on hearsay evidence whose sole source is a conflict-of-interest-ridden husband whom the state courts have allowed to act as her guardian despite those courts’ own admission that his material interests conflict with hers." Certainly much of what you wrote there is YOUR quite debatable INTERPRETATION of the situation.

I don’t think my tone was hostile, but at any rate there are grave due-process questions in this case, and ambiguities that should be resolved in favor of life, and speculating about my "tone" is just another red herring that shouldn’t be allowed to divert us from these issues. The right not to be deprived of life w/out due process is guaranteed the 5th and 14th Amendments, and is generally agreed to have been nationalized (i.e., extended to apply to states such as FL) by the latter. That makes this a "national" matter, and BTW, Congress discusses and acts on "private" bills all the time.

If Terri Schiavo was a convicted serial killer facing a capital sentence, the courts (not to mention the ACLU) would be doing far more to protect her from being put to death than is now the case. Everything the FL courts have done has been based on civil-law standards of proof; moreover, those courts have allowed Michael Schiavo (now the father of two kids by a woman other than Terri) to act as her guardian (instead, e.g., of appointing someone to act as guardian ad litem) despite judicial admissions that his interests conflict w/ hers. He has refused to spend money on her treatment and therapy on the basis of a claim--for which he is the sole, hearsay witness--that she once said she wouldn’t want to live under certain conditions.

That’s the sole evidentiary basis for Terri’s execution by a husband who has abandoned her for another woman, and who stands to become a rich man by her death (again, over the years he has refused to spend money on her rehab, spent a lot on lawyers trying to kill her, and he’s the beneficiary of her life insurance). These are matters of public record, not my personal interpretation.

In fine, the evidence shows that this is a case of misfeasant court system allowing a fox to guard a henhouse, and an innocent woman’s life is at stake. Terri may not be healthy in your view, Lori, but she’s lived for 15 years since the heart attack that caused her brain damage, and she has all the right to due process that anyone else has, healthy, disabled, or whatnot.

I close with a link to some reflections on the evidentiary standards (hint: they are stricter than you will find in civ pro) that should be brought to bear in a case as grave as this one:

I’ve often thought that the "culture of life" conservatives too frequently seem concerned only about the polar fringes of life (fetuses and those on life support or hoping to short-circuit a terminal illness), and rather indifferent to far too many lives among the mass of humanity in the middle. Unborn babies and (like Terri Schiavo) tragically ill people who are "alive" in only the most twisted, clinical sense CAN be very useful political tools to distract the majority remainder of the citizenry from the fact that they are getting screwed. Do conservatives really believe that only those lives at the polar fringes are or can be vulnerable? It’s rather baffling. And then I read about
this Texas law that Bush signed (didn’t he do this AFTER his conversion to Christ?), and it’s become clearer to me that this really is all just a bunch of completely amoral political strategizing - political "science," if you will - and that the alleged concern and dedication to a "culture of life" is just about the most transparently thin veneer of b.s. imaginable. This (from the article) told me PLENTY:

"While Congress and the White House were considering legislation recently in the Schiavo case, Bush’s Texas law faced its first high-profile test. With the permission of a judge, a Houston hospital disconnected a critically ill infant from his breathing tube last week against his mother’s wishes after doctors determined that continuing life support would be futile.

"The mother down in Texas must be reading the Schiavo case and scratching her head," said Dr. Howard Brody, the director of Michigan State University’s Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences. "This does appear to be a contradiction."

Brody said that, in taking up the Schiavo case, Bush and Congress had shattered a body of bioethics law and practice.

"This is crazy. It’s political grandstanding," he said."

This too, from a recent Washington Post article, is pretty choice:

The new law appears to conflict with a Texas law Bush signed as governor, according to lawyers familiar with the legislation. The 1999 Advance Directives Act in Texas allows a patient’s surrogate to make end-of-life decisions and spells out how to proceed if a health provider disagrees with a decision to maintain or halt life-sustaining treatment.

Thomas Mayo, an associate law professor at Southern Methodist University who helped draft the Texas law, told the Associated Press that if the Schiavo case had happened in Texas, the husband would have been her surrogate decision maker. Because both he and her doctors were in agreement, life support would have been discontinued, he said.

I’ve heard of the Texas law. To give some relevant context, then-Gov. Bush signed a law that wasn’t his first choice (he favored a law that was more protective of life) but was the best he could get, given the realities of practices in some TX hospitals as well as the balance of forces on this issue in the TX legislature at the time.

An e-mailer familiar with the events in TX a few years ago explained them to Kathryn Lopez of and she posted that message at:

The short of it is that Bush wasn’t being a hypocrite. He was getting the most legal protection for innocent life he could get, given the unchecked powers of hospital "ethics boards" and the lack of will in the state legislature to go very far towards correcting the problem.

"The short of it is that Bush wasn’t being a hypocrite."

Oh, OF COURSE NOT!!! Completely impossible! ;)

John writes: "I know of no Republican--or Libertarian, for that matter--who thinks that people who violate the rights of others should be left alone."

Do you really believe that all Republicans and libertarians have renounced the state action doctrine? Or is the word "rights" doing the narrowing work here?

PJC - And I suppose you have an equally solid rationalization for why Tom Delay is not a hypocrite in his valiant struggle for Terri’s life?


Delay’s father was suffering organ failure as a result of the car accident. His kidneys, for instance, were not working.

Terri Schiavo’s kidneys had been working, and she was not on life support. She had lived for 15 years since her heart attack, and breathed on her own. Terri Schiavo is currently suffering organ failure, but not because of her heart attack (which would be analogous to the elder DeLay’s car-wreck injuries). She is suffering organ failure because her husband and Judge Greer ordered her starved to death.

If DeLay’s father had been living on his own except for needing a feeding tube, and Delay had approved of pulling the tube, I’d say you were on firm ground, Frank. But the facts of the two cases are different.

BTW, if anyone wants to read a REAL example of rationalization, check out this exchange from last Friday’s PBS NewsHour from a world-class champion of sinister euphemism named Dr. Russell Portenoy:

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