Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Right to Life?

The Terri Schiavo case has been dominating the local news for several days now: every American news website I've checked has it as the number-one story today.

I'm not going to comment on the case itself; pretty much every reasonable position (and almost every unreasonable one) has been presented and argued over in thousands of fora, from TV debates to blog comment threads. The issue has become incredibly politicized: it seems farcical that Republicans brought the issue to federal courts, or even got the government involved in the first place. And subpoenaing her so that she would have to be kept alive was downright stupid. I honestly don't see what all the hoop-la is about. There seem to be only three options:
1) Let the courts decide, and abide by this decision. If the decision is not the one you want, you'll just have to accept it.
2) Pass a law which would deprive Mr. Schiavo of the power to stop the feeding of his wife. This could be specific enough to apply only to the Schiavos (but that would be ridiculous, and probably unconstitutional), broad enough to apply to all spouses of patients in a Persistent Vegetative State (but then who else could make the decision? Who could be closer than a spouse?), or somewhere in between.
3) Amend the constitution in one of a hundred ways that could keep Terri Schiavo alive.

The third option is nonsense, and the second probably wouldn't work. That leaves only the first, but too many people seem to find it unpalatable. Even worse, they resort to legal irrelevancies like ad-hominem attacks on Michael Schiavo. (Some of the comments may be morally relevant, but that's a whole different ball game, which I'll come to in a later post.) In the absence of a "living will", the law says that the spouse decides, and Michael Schiavo wants the feeding discontinued. That should be all there is to it, and conservative talk-show host Neal Boortz explains why Christians should be willing to let Terri go to heaven after 15 years of suffering. Of course, if there is a reasonable doubt about the facts of the case, we should definitely "err on the side of life", as President Bush put it. Bill Frist's remote diagnosis doesn't cut it, though.

As an aside, Andrew Sullivan and Dahlia Lithwick point out another inconsistency in the Republican position: if marriage (even civil marriage) is a 'unique and special legal bond' between two people (one which must be protected from corruption by gay couples), then Michael Schiavo is the only person whose opinion matters in the slightest. (For someone who wasn't going to comment, you managed a fair bit - ed.)

Unfortunately, while the nation's attention is focussed on the circus that the Schiavo case has become, more serious issues are not being addressed. Cuts in funding for Medicaid and Medicare will result in many more lives lost over the next few years, but we don't have special Sunday sessions of Congress to consider that. E. J. Dionne Jr. has a good column on what being 'pro-life' really means. Sadly, I doubt we'll ever have thousands of people demonstrating in favour of Medicaid reform. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's lines in Aurora Leigh come irresistibly to mind:
A red-haired child
Sick in a fever, if you touch him once,
Though but so little as with a finger-tip,
Will set you weeping! but a million sick ...
You could as soon weep for the rule of three,
Or compound fractions.

1 comment:

m. said...

talk about selective perception! the power of the media really hits you in cases like this one.
even in india, well talk of a famine in somalia and not be aware of our own farmers condition in AP.
when something is dramatic and can be gruesomely or attractively glamourised by the press its noticed. grinding day to day pain is boring.