Friday, March 11, 2005

You're Only Married if Republicans Agree With You

Inspired by Matt's recent post -- which is an interesting discussion and which has spawned some interesting back-and-forth -- I thought I'd share some of my own thougts about Terri Schiavo's case. My thoughts aren't as deep as Matt's -- my brain can't handle such weighty issues today -- but I thought I'd share my opinion on that morass down in Florida.

Quick factual recap: Ms. Schaivo is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), and she has been for fifteen years now. Her brain stem is ruined, the result of a heart attack, and really the only thing keeping her alive now is her feeding tubes. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, is trying to have her feeding tube removed, arguing that she would not have wanted to remain in this vegetative state. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, are fighting tooth and nail to prevent this from happening, arguing that she exhibits signs of higher brain activity and that there is still a chance that she could come out of her PVS. They also argue that Mr. Schiavo -- who after during the fifteen years of his wife's illness has taken up residence with another woman and indeed fathered children by her -- does not have Terri's best interests at heart.

The Florida state government has gotten involved as well. After the court system decided that Mr. Schiavo was entitled to have Terri's feeding tube removed -- a decision that took years and years of litigation and several trips up through the appeals court process -- the legislature passed a law that by its own terms expired in something like one day, granting the governor permission to intervene in all cases with facts shockingly similar to Terri's. Unsurprisingly, Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the feeding tube reinserted (Mr. Schiavo had ordered it removed). Also unsurprisingly, the case was taken back to court and, again after a bitter series of court fights between Terri's husband and her parents, the court rebuked Gov. Bush's actions, and again held that Mr. Schiavo has the rights to decide what happens next.

Of course, the Schindlers continue to fight, filing a new series of motions with the trial judge. The trial judge finally recently decided that he was not going to grant further extensions on the matter, and, very soon, Mr. Schiavo will once again be permitted to order the removal of Terri's feeding tube.

My thoughts on this matter run not so much toward the gist of Matt's post about "playing God" or the innate sanctity of human life, etc. My thoughts run more along the lines of Republican hypocrisy, which I've noticed very little commentary on throughout this debacle.

With gay marriage making headlines around the country and the world, Republicans lately harp on and on about "the sanctity of marriage." It's a bond between a man and a woman, they cry, it's sacred, not to be messed with, sanctified.

But it appears to me that, at least in Florida, the bonds of matrimony are only meant to be honored when it's most convenient for the party's political ends.

Michael Schiavo, under the law, has certain automatic rights when it comes to his wife. These are, in fact, the very rights which gay couples want so badly to have, and which Republicans are so determined to deny them. These rights include the right to make life-or-death decisions on behalf of their spouse. If Terri were indisputably dead, with no brain function whatsoever, Michael would have full rights to dictate the manner of her final disposition (burial, cremation, etc.), to have her organs donated, etc. etc. He could make all those decisions for her. If she were suffering from Alzheimer's or some other disease that robbed her of her mental competence, it would fall upon him, her legal spouse, to determine whether she should be institutionalized, or cared for at home, as well as to decide whether or not to subject her to certain medical treatments.

Yet in this particular case, Republicans have decided to carve out an exception to their precious "time-honored" institution of marriage. Here, instead of Michael Schiavo being able to speak on behalf of his wife -- and he insists that she had previously expressed her desire not to be kept alive in circumstances like the one she's in now -- the Repulican legislature and the Republican governor decide they know better than the woman's husband what her desires are. Let's face it, they're using Terri Schiavo as a poltical tool to affirm their so-called "pro-life" stance (unless you're a capital criminal, in which case killing someone is okay).

And this is not the first that Republicans have tossed aside the "sacred bond" of marriage when they disagreed with the decision of the legal spouse. Remember Elian Gonzalez? Elian's mother died while trying to illegally transport him from Cuba to Florida. Elian made it to Florida shores and eventually he was placed in the custody of relatives in Miami. Not his father, by the way -- we're talking cousins and grandparents. His father was in Cuba, and indeed was unaware of his mother's attempts to bring him into the United States. Eventually the Justice Department determined that Elian had to be returned to his father, even if it meant that his father would take him back to Cuba.

The outrage from Republicans was blinding. You would have thought we were sending the boy to fend for himself in a Australian outback instead of sending him home with his freaking father. Where was the respect for the institution of marriage then? Where was this sacred bond then? Where were the automatic rights accorded the father of the child over all others then? They were shot out the window in favor of the political capital that comes from supporting the Cuban-American community in Miami by condemning Cuba's system of government. Elian was a convenient political tool, the same way Terri Schiavo is now.

Michael Schiavo presumably knows best what his wife would have wanted under these circumstances. Those feeding tubes should be removed and Terri should be permitted to die with dignity, not have her life unfavorably compared to a sack of potatoes.

** UPDATE: I've posted a subsequent entry about this matter here if you're interested.


Matthew said...

Great post, Dennis!

Your analysis is excellent.

I like how you were able to weave multiple topics and opinions throughout, while still keeping the main focus on the Schiavo case.

Your points about the Republican hypocrisy over marriage, as well as the whole Elian Gonzalez fiasco are well put.

Oh, and thanks for the link-love. ;-)

Take care.

Steve said...

Most excellent post, Dennis! This Terry Schiavo madness is going on right here... I live right here. I had an opinion, but this case has gone beyond insane, so much so, it hurts my head trying to explain where I'm coming from on it. Again, great post. (BTW: I can comment! Blogger is temporarily NOT being an asstool.)

rexas_texas said...

Dennis, Matthew, Steve: You are all suggesting treatment to a human you would not permit a dog receiving. Starvation and thirsting to death? That's inhumane and incanine as well. It is against every law to permit this absurd cruelty to animals but for a judge to ORDER this inhumane treatment for a human? If this is the law, this law is an ASS. Let's keep it simple: This woman is alive and chooses to live! She would not rejoice at seeing her parents (eye movement, smiles, animation) if she chooses death. She has some brain activity. Her husband is an obvious bigamist with a second common law wife who has spent virtually none of the monies awarded her (not him) for her (not his) therapy. He it tainted in that he has everything to gain by her death. The courts should remand him to prison for witholding monies for treatment, IMO.

Janis Reno's Justice Department treated the Elian case shamefullty. Recall he left with his Mother whi was tragically drowned when the boat samped. She wanted only the best for Elian and took him out of Cuba forr a new life. Elian didn't live w/ his Father until he was forceed back to Cuba. I predict he will - when he reached majority - make it to the US again and decry his treatment ar being forcibly repatriated. I predict that Elian will one day return and show you hypocrites for what you are, control freaks of the highest order. Reno and the US Government had no right to turn Elian. If anything, his father should have been offered asylum (Castro would never permitted it. Castro's arguments are much like yours. One way).

Both cases are indicative of a control of life not in your control and it is of obvious and uncomfortable concern to you. Life and freedom is a sacred of this republic and our judeo-christian culture. Stand up for these values or lose them forever.

Peace & Justice

Dennis! said...

I wholeheartedly doubt that "rexas_texas" will return here, but for what it's worth, I feel a need to respond:

(1) The judge is not ORDERING anyone to remove the feeding tubes. The judge is ruling that Michael Schaivo -- and not the Shindlers -- has the legal right to determine that it's what Terri would have wanted. And he has indicated that Terri's indicated to her that she wouldn't like to "live" like this.

(2) "She chooses to live." Uh, she's not choosing anything at the moment. She's incapable of any conscious thought.

(3) "Rejoice at seeing her parents." While this is great for propoganda purposes, experts have testified in her case that these reactions may not indicate sentient brain activity at all, and may simply be involuntary body spasms, not unlike a muscle spasm. The judicial system has considered the argument that these "reactions" she exhibits are reflective of brain activity and concluded that the weight of scientific authority says that they're not.

(4) Her husband has lived without her love and comfort for fifteen years. Is it so wrong that he should move on with his life? Was he supposed to spend these past fifteen years just pining for her, knowing that the medical evidence indicates that she won't regain consciousness?

(5) "Elian's mother tragically drowned trying to bring him here." Does anyone stop to think how irresponsible it was for her to drag a child onto a dangerous boat "in the hopes of starting a new life"? She's the one who put herself -- and, importantly, Elian -- in a precarious position that ended up killing her, and could have killed him. Is that the great "new life" she wanted for him? Is she such a saint for subjecting him to that kind of risk?

(6) I don't care what Elian does when he's old enough to make the choice to do so, but until then, his father has the right to "control" his life.

Generally, I find it ironic and hypocritical that you would chastize those that disagree with you as "control freaks" trying to "control life that is not in your control." Because that sword cuts both ways -- the Schindlers are also trying to "control life" that's not theirs to control. Why is Michael Schaivo a "control freak" and the Schindlers not? The entire question here is about "control" -- because someone has to exercise it on Terri's behalf, because she can't exercise it herself. The only question is who should have the control -- and the answer should be clear: her spouse.

In tough cases like these, legally, it's always fallen to the spouse to make that decision. But apparently not if the spouse makes the "wrong" decision and Republicans control the legislature and executive branch.