Debra J. Saunders

I've heard the clamor as to why Terri Schiavo must die. No one, it is said, would want to live like her. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, are religious fanatics. Many of her so-called supporters are "pro-life" zealots. Evil GOP geniuses passed a special law to help her live. And so, she must die.
 
I've followed this poignant case for two years. And my husband served at one time as an unpaid informal adviser to the Schindlers. I've heard the arguments, and they often start with: No one would want to live like that.

 After all, this case is supposed to be about Terri's "right to die," even though no one knows for sure that she wants to die. She never wrote a living will or other document asserting as much. A court decided that she would want to die, based on casual remarks she made to her husband Michael and his brother and sister.

 She told them she would never want to be kept alive by machines.

 I hate to insert facts here, but it is a fact that a feeding tube is not a machine.

 Yet somehow the courts found that those casual comments have the force of a legal document -- and apply to a feeding tube, when they were meant for a respirator.

 In so ruling, a judge also ignored claims made by Michael Schiavo when he sued the hospital that first treated Terri in 1990 for $16 million for failing to detect her potassium imbalance.

 As Newsday reported in 2003, he won $300,000 for himself for loss of consortium and $700,000 for his wife -- based on the presumption that Michael would care for Terri for the rest of her life.

 It was not until 1998 that Michael Schiavo acted on the basis of his wife's stated wish not to live on life support.

 Here's another slogan: A husband has a right to determine a wife's fate. It doesn't matter if he has a conflict -- in this case, two children sired by a woman he calls his fiance -- he still has a supreme right over Terri's fate.

 Another reported fact: Michael Schiavo won't approve an MRI, although Terri is said to have had one years ago.

 Those who argue that Terri Schiavo should die note that her doctors say her prognosis is hopeless. Doctors are always right, correct? There is the argument that the courts have adjudicated on this and sided with the husband. That's why the Schindlers and Republicans compare Schiavo to death-row defendants. The courts keep finding them guilty, and their lawyers keep filing appeals, because there should be no doubt as to the defendant's guilt and access to a fair trial.

 If the law is going to give the benefit of the doubt to convicted killers, it makes sense to extend it to a woman whose only crime is that she is disabled.

  OK, I'll take a deep breath and break from the polemics. This is a complicated case, and people of good faith can disagree. This involves a heart-wrenching decision that no one would take lightly.

 Do I have problems with Congress passing a law for one person? Do I believe it is possible that Michael Schiavo, who did go to great lengths early on trying to help his wife, still has the best interests of Terri in mind? Do I want the government to stay out of end-of-life decisions that families are forced to make at a painful, raw time in their lives? Was I appalled when I heard Bob Schindler say on TV that he told his daughter, who is starving, he would "take her out for a little ride, get her some breakfast?" Yes, yes, yes and of course.

  I also don't enjoy watching the Schindlers' attorneys make silly legal claims in a desperate attempt to entice the federal court to change course, when it is clear to me that the courts, federal and state, are going to stick to their guns, as they have the power to do.

  But spare me the rhetoric about Republicans being hypocrites on states' rights -- fresh from the mouths of Democrats who don't want to let Alaskans drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, who don't want states to determine their own gun-control laws and couldn't wait for the feds to storm the home of the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez.

 Let me also say that Congress -- with Democratic votes, I'll add -- didn't pass a law requiring that the feeding tube be reinserted in Terri Schiavo. It passed a law handing the case on to federal courts.

 I'm no fan of Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. But the House majority leader is right in this case. It's not clear Terri Schiavo would want to die. A husband does not -- in my book -- have an absolute right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment for his wife.

 I wish the courts had ruled in Terri Schiavo's favor, even as I accept the fact that they have not and likely will not. It is possible, after all, that Terri Schiavo wants to die. It's just too bad that she will die, regardless of whether she wanted to or not.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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