Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature may not know it, but they acted in the spirit of Sir Philip Sidney when they tried to save the life of Terri Schiavo.
When Sidney, a young warrior and poet in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, was mortally wounded in battle, legend has it that he passed up a drink of water in deference to a common soldier who lay nearby in the throes of death.
"Thy need is greater than mine," Sidney told the dying man.
After his own lingering death, Sidney's body was brought back to England, where he was given a state funeral and held up by his countrymen as a model of virtue to be emulated by all.
Today, Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, is trying to take an action that would reverse Sidney's. Rather than provide water to a stranger about to die, he wants to deny water to his own wife who persists in living. Since 1998, contrary to the wishes of Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, Schiavo has been seeking to remove the nutrition-and-hydration tube that sustains Terri, who became mentally incapacitated 15 years ago when her heart temporarily stopped beating.
On Sept. 17, 2003, a Florida court authorized Schiavo to remove his wife's tube. On Oct. 15, 2003, the tube was removed and Terri began a slow death by dehydration. Six days after that, Gov. Bush signed a law enacted by the Florida legislature allowing him to issue a one-time stay of the court order that authorized the removal of Terri's nutrition-and-hydration tube.
Bush ordered the tube restored, and Terri is alive today.
This week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept Bush's appeal of a Florida Supreme Court decision that overturned what became known as Terri's Law. Other litigation in the case will continue, but so far the courts have consistently sided in favor of starving and dehydrating Terri Schiavo.
The courts, however, are wrong. And the Florida legislature should not stop fighting them.
The disputants in Terri Schiavo's case disagree on her condition and prognosis. As noted in the petition Gov. Bush made to the Supreme Court, some say that "Terri Schiavo is not actually in a persistent vegetative state because she is able to interact with her visitors and caregivers."
But the key point is not disputed: Terri is unlikely to die soon unless deprived of food and water.
Indeed, the purpose of depriving her of food and water is to kill her.