Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri Schiavo Case Goes to Federal Court: Congress Pushes Legislation in Bold and Controversial Move

March 8(21), 2005

In a landmark legislative decision, Congress met last night to pass an emergency bill forcing Terri Schiavo's case to the federal courts. Members of Congress flew back to Washginton from all over the country on Palm Sunday to vote on the measure late in the night, and President Bush himself took a jet to the White House, leaving his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
To counter claims that the passage of the bill could have longterm effects on the American legal system by setting the precedent of Congress intervening in private family affairs, members who backed the legislation said that the bill had been crafted specifically to accomodate the Schiavo family and that it would have no widespread implications. And in that very explanation lies the problem; it is illegal in this country to create laws dealing with specific people. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida found that out just a short while ago, when his own effort to maintain Mrs. Schiavo's life support, called, "Terri's Law," was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. Following that decision, Terri's feeding tube was removed, prompting last night's legislative session.
The Florida Supreme Court's conclusion will undoubtedly be considered by the federal judge now ruling in the case. The federal law signed by President Bush in the late hours of the night on Sunday treds constitutional ground that is shaky at best. The United States Congress is a debative, legislative body. It is almost unheard of that such a body would overturn a judicial decision from a court as distinguished as the Florida Supreme Court. Based on those grounds, the law could be found unconstitutional, which would essentially guarantee that Mrs. Shiavo's current condition (without her feeding tube) would remain in place until it effected her death.
Most important to the case, however, is the question of Terri's rights. Her husband (and others, many of them Democrats) have argued for her right to die. Mr. Schiavo has repeated said that his wife would not have wanted to live out her life under such circumstances as she now finds herself. Indeed, if it was Terri's wish to die, she should absolutely be allowed to in accordance with her desires. Congress has no right, no place at all, in infringing on a citizen's personal ability to choose whether or not they are kept alive through extraordinary means.
Conservatives have pointed out that Mrs. Schiavo did not have a living will, and have asked that a person's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be remembered. Terri's life cannot be ended, they say, unless she has had due process. Unfortunately for Republicans who would see Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted, it is likely that any federal judge would find the media and judicial circus that has surrounded the case due process enough.
And the case is further marred by the growing body of evidence suggesting that many of the Republicans voting for the measure have been motivated by political goals. A number of Republicans have gone out of their way to designate themselves as, "pro-life," as opposed to the Democrats, who, it is insinuated, are anti-life or some other rubbish. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has remained virutally hidden from the media following rising concern over his ethical conduct, is suddenly front and center, slamming Democrats as those who voted to, "kill Terri Shiavo," and allow her, "to die of thirst."
Representative Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat who went against party lines to vote for the measure, was moved to remark that, "We are all pro-life." He went on to say that he was upset by the comments of many Republicans.
An internal Republican memo that leaked to the press certainly hasn't helped matters. The memo said that Republicans should support the Shiavo measure because, "the prolife base will be excited and this is a tough issue for Democrats." The fact that this helpless woman's life (or death) is being used to energize a political constituency is callous, to say the very least. While Robert Novak, the cohost of CNN's, "Crossfire," remarked that Democrats came out of the conflict looking, "legalistic," a number of people seemed to disagree with him. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, said that Republicans were voting solely with, "the upcoming election in mind." He also remarked that religion had nothing to do with the reasons behind the votes. Certainly, the right wing's blatant exploitation of this very personal case has disgusted many, including, it seems, the American public.
An ABC poll conducted yesterday found that 60% of the public was against the legislation, 75% felt that Congress's intervention was inappropriate, and 67% believed that the Republicans were politicking. Less than 20% believed that the Congress Republicans genuinely cared for Mrs. Shiavo's welfare.
In the end, it is what Mrs. Schiavo (or anyone else in her condition) would have wanted that should count. If someone chooses to stay on life support, that wish should be carried out. Similarly, anyone who would not want to be kept alive in such a manner should be allowed to die peacefully. An overwhelming majority of the American public (75%) say that they would prefer death to life maintained by extraordinary means.
The conservatives do have one thing right, though; the way in which these deaths are facilitated is terrible. None among us would choose to starve to death, but that is the fate that invariably awaits Mrs. Schiavo, should it be found that it was her will to die. In the future, those who express a clear desire to die rather than live off of a machine should be able to pass on in a quick and painless fashion. Should it be in their will, a person choosing death over life support should be euthanized, not starved. Euthanization of irreversibly damaged patients, those people who will never live independent of a machine, is an option that needs to be made available to those who wish to take it.

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