Monday, March 21, 2005

Schiavo Redux

Okay okay okay, I know I've blogged about this before, but I'm still so worked up about this situation I feel the need to come up with yet another post on this, expanding my thoughts beyond just the "marriage" question to multiple issues of Republican hypocrisy in light of newer developments.

First, a recap of the newer developments: After attemps to delay the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube at the legislative, judicial and executive branches of Florida's state government failed, the U.S. Congress has taken it upon itself to pass a bill permitting a federal court to further review the case -- the case is now effectively in front of a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida. Indeed, those crafty lawmakers even attempted to subpoena the woman in hopes of invoking Congressional prtections against interfering with a witness under subpoena.

When will the madness end? And what happened to Republican core principles?

"State's Rights"

For a party that rallies behind the mantra of "state's rights" as much as it does, the Republicans in Congress sure don't seem to want to let the State of Florida handle this one on its own. Perhaps that's just beacuse they so vehemently think that the State of Florida simply got it wrong. Never mind that, according to otherwise traditional Republican dogma, each State is entitled to its own autonomy over its own citizens, and in fact such autonomy is mandated by the Tenth Amendment. "Let the States decide for themselves!" they cry... generally omitting the caveat that this only applies if the Republican party likes the outcome.

"State's rights" is also often used as a rallying cry with respect to the issue of gay marriage. Those few Republicans who are against amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage -- as well as those Democrats who also oppose amending the Constitution but who don't support gay marriage rights -- usually do so under the banner of allowing the States to decide the matter. Of course, they can do so safely, because so far state after state has pretty much voted to amend their Constitutions to deny gays the right to marry. But what would happen if any State voted in favor of gay marriage? I fear that Republicans would suddenly feel the urge to strip that State of its autonomous powers with respect to the issue and decide that issue for them.

"Smaller Federal Government" / "Less Governmental Intervention"

Again, apparently this is a great Republican tenet to live by if the underling masses were capable of reaching the "right" conclusion on their own. There's absolutely no basis in law for permitting federal intervention in Terri Schiavo's case -- none. And yet the Party Of Small Government is more than willing to pass legislation to allow the Government to stick its nose into the Schiavos' personal business because they don't like the result.

Essentially, the Republican party appears to treat the unbridled masses much as one would a recalcitrant adolescent: We'll give you just enough personal autonomy and discretion to make you feel like you've got some control over your life, but we'll slap you down the moment we disagree with you. Sure, go to the college you want -- as long as it's Harvard or Yale, otherwise we'll yank the purse strings. We ain't payin' for no Oberlin.

"Sanctity of Life"

I read all kinds of arguments that Terri wants to live. No one can say for sure that that's true. She can't express that desire on her own. The "reactions" she exhibits to her parents may simply be involuntarily bodily ticks, and doctors have testifed to as much in court. Indeed, my understanding is that the courthouse file on this matter contains hours and hours and hours of footage of Terri lying in her bed, exhibiting these involuntary "reactions" from time to time, even when no one's there.

The argument that people seem to put forth is that there's simply too much doubt here. Because no one knows for sure what Terri's wishes are, and there's a chance that she's respoding to stimuli and exhibiting a desire to emerge from her persistent vegetative state, we should err on the side of keeping her "alive."

But these same people who argue that we must "err on the side of life" have no problem with the death penalty. In fact, death penalty proponents -- mostly Republican -- care not about the inherent uncertainty in the system, and that there frequently is a pretty good chance that a convicted felon is, in fact, innocent. In fact, Republican lawmakers appear willing to turn a blind eye to these flaws in the capital system of punishment, limiting appeals of death row inmates even when new exculpatory evidence is available. Where is the "err on the side of life" argument now?

According to Republican thought, if a man sits on death row and new evidence surfaces that might prove him innocent, tough luck. He's already been through too many appeals and he's annoying us now. If a woman lies in a persistent vegetative state and her husband decides she would rather not live in that way, we must invent new avenues of appeal for her because her life is just so valuable.


"The Sanctity of Marriage"

Although my last post dealt with this subject in a broader sense, the point remains the same: You can't claim on one hand that marriage is the gold standard of relationships, wherein you give yourself completely to your spouse, while fighting tooth and nail for the right of government to come in and interfere with your decisions made in the context of that marriage. It's just fundamentally irreconcilable.

Every time gay marriage comes up, proponents seem to bring up one fact more than others: hospital rights. Spouses are "family" and therefore presumptively allowed to see loved ones in the hospital; many gay partners are denied this ability. Spouses are legally presumed to be the decisionmaker for an incapacitated partner.

But apparently this rule of law only really works when the spouse makes the "right" decision. Otherwise, watch out. The slippery slope his is immensely dangerous. If the will of the spouse can be ignored here, in what other contexts will it be thrown out the window?

"It's Inhumane"

I see arguments about how this action is actually inhumane. Truth be told, I can somewhat see their point: Terri's eventual death in this matter will come not from a lethal injection or other death acceleration process, but from starvation. Her feeding tube is being removed, but her breathing and heartbeat remain functional.

But to focus completely on the "death by starvation is barbaric" argument misses a pretty important point as relates to this post: Who was it who removed death acceleration (lethal injection, etc.) from the table? Take a guess as to which political party doesn't want to see euthanasia as a viable personal (private) choice in America, and one which doesn't hurt anyone except the person whose choice is being affected. When Oregon voters passed the "Death with Dignity" Act, permitting doctors to assist in the death of terminally ill patients, John Ashcroft responded with a directive stating that such assisted suicide would result in federal penalties under the Controlled Substances Act. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shot him down; the case is now slated to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Don't think that the same liability wouldn't result under this Administration in a different jurisdiction.

So whose fault is it that the only way that Terri can be permitted to die with dignity is through the removal of a feeding tube? If lethal injection were an option, I'm sure Michael Schiavo and Terri's doctors would have considered it -- but it's effectively been removed from the table.

Finally, at least one person commented on my previous post that "we don't even treat our dogs as badly as they want to treat Terri!" Fact is, though, we do, and it's better that way. When dogs (and cats, and horses, etc. etc.) become so crippled with pain and disease that their quality of life is no longer good for them, we put them to sleep. It happens all the time. We decide, on behalf of our pets who can't speak for themselves, that it would be more humane to put them to "sleep" than to allow them to continue to endure life in an undesirable state. In my view, that's what Michael seeks to do for Terri.

"Control Freaks!"

The commenter to my previous post also said that people seeking to remove Terri's feeding tube were simply "control freaks" who want to decide Terri's destiny for her. Frankly, that's an idiotic argument because it's basically a swinging door, going equally in the opposite direction as that in which it's pointed. The Schindlers are seeking to "control" Terri's life as much as Michael is -- the only difference is the result they each reach. And someone has to exercise control over Terri's life, given her inability to do so for herself. And the point of my last post was that legally, the person entitled to exercise control over her life is presumptively her husband (see "Sanctity of Marriage"), and it didn't happen here.

"He's an Adulterer!"

I see this argument all the time. It's not so much related to the Republican hypocrisy point of this post, but I'd like to address it anyway. The argument is basically that because Michael has another woman in his life -- and has in fact fathered children by her -- he is somehow no longer capable of thinking in Terri's best interests.

Terri's been in a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years. I find it incredible to believe people who are basically arguing that the man should lock himself up somewhere and pine over a wife who no longer is capable of loving him back. I don't fault Michael at all for attempting to move on, and I don't think it has any bearing at all on his love for Terri.

I ask anyone who disagrees with me to try the following exercise. Think about your significant other: spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, life partner, whatever have you. Think about why you fell in love with him/her, and what memories you will carry of him/her after s/he's gone. Think of what's great about your relationship and why you treasure it as much as you do. Make a list of those reasons that starts with "I love my partner because..."

... and I bet that no one who has performed this exercise has a list that begins and ends with "I love my partner because s/he has a pulse and can breathe on her own." No one. It really does take more to sustain a relationship. A smile, a sense of humor, a personality, something. Terri has none of these. She has a heartbeat and is capable of independently drawing breath. That's all she has. Yet some out there would argue that Michael should have remained 100% committed to this woman who by now has none of the original traits that he fell in love with.

Yes, standard marriage vows say "For better or for worse, in sickness and in health," but when there is nothing to hold on to in the present, perhaps it's time to accede to the future. It doesn't mean Michael loves her less; it means he's accepted a reality that her parents aren't yet prepared to deal with.

I think I've made my point. I know there are people out there who disagree with me. I think we all agree it's a damn tough choice all around, and I certainly wouldn't wish it upon any of my loved ones to decide whether I live or die (hence my intention to draft a living will ASAP). All I ask is that everyone who reads this approaches this post with an open mind toward the arguments contained. Informed, civil dialogue is good; ad hominem attacks, bad.

PS: For still more (and better) analysis of Congressional hypocrisy, check out Terrance's post at Republic of T. And for an analysis of how the Republican majority here is completely out of step with mainstream America, check out Christian Grantham.


p.p. said...

Great post, Dennis. You and I have very similar political beliefs.

I just cannot believe you have the time to write all that. I'm impressed.

Dennis! said...

Yeah... I clearly have too much time on my hands. Hahaha.

Me said...

What a great post.