Why does Terri Schiavo matter? Why has Congress made a federal case out of her situation? Why did the president of the United States return to Washington from Texas in order to sign a bill created for the express purpose of inviting a federal court to review the case and likely requiring her feeding tube restored while the judge gathers information?
She matters, not only because she has an endowed, inalienable right to life, but also because she is a symbol - like Rosa Parks was a symbol when she refused to sit in the back of that Montgomery, Ala., bus; like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who symbolized freedom by defying Soviet authorities and chronicling the inhabitants and victims of the gulags; like astronauts who brave death to explore space. Symbols have meaning. Terri Schiavo is a symbol in the battle over life-and-death issues that inconveniently, but necessarily, confront us.
Opponents of federal intervention cry "hypocrisy" because conservatives pushing for a federal court review claim to support states rights on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage and think these matters should be left to the states under the 10th Amendment.
But the hypocrisy label can be turned around. Didn't liberals reject states rights when it came to civil rights for African-Americans four decades ago, and didn't they make federal cases out of such things as integrated restrooms and universities? They supported sending federal troops to force integration on unwilling states. They were right to do so then, and conservatives are right to ask the federal government to intervene when a Florida judge has, in effect, ordered the murder of Terri Schiavo by denying her food and water.
Then, as now, when an individual's civil and constitutional rights are denied by a state, there are instances when federal action is required. This is such an instance.
Terri Schiavo's life matters as symbol and substance. Her case is only the latest in a long series that forces us to choose between two philosophies of life.
One philosophy says we are mere material and energy shaped by pure chance in a random universe, evolving from slime with no Author of life, no purpose for living beyond what gives us pleasure and no destination after we die but the grave.
The other philosophy of life says we are created by an infinite, personal God who has a plan for every life in every situation and circumstance and that no one should take a life except under the most extreme circumstances and only through due process or in self-defense.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Cal Thomas' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.