Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Few Notes on the Schiavo Situation

A few notes on the Schiavo case that you may have missed in all the political posturing. Just a few points to, you know, consider, while everyone is off running around emotionally half-cocked about this whole situation:

Regardless of what you think personally of the morality issue, the vocal right pushing for Congressional intervention is a small minority. Polls across the country are showing 60-90% of Americans believe Terri and Michael's wishes should be respected and she should be allowed to die. Congress and opportunistic Republicans are responding to a vocal minority. (Remember that, too, when you hear all the posturing in Florida in the future about "renegade judges".) I've been reading material from a lot of people who seem to believe that this is a red state/blue state issue or that it's signaling some wide rift in American politics. It's not. It's a political move to make DeLay look better at home in Texas. My question: where they hell is the DNC on this? They should getting a big fat piece of this action making up ground with moderate Republicans who are sickened by the whole mess and starting to feel that the straw is piling up on the backs of camels. (Still isn't enough to make me ever vote for Hillary, though.)

Meanwhile, back in Texas: So, where was DeLay, Bush, and the GOP two weeks ago when this handicapped child was taken off a feeding tube in a Houston hospital? Did they just not have it figured out as an issue yet? Or is Texas such a GOP lock that they didn't bother. Better to play this whole crazy religious scenario out in a state that we might actually need in the next election. (Don't forget what the GOP did for you, Floridians!)

Who's been paying for Terri? Terri's care has been provided largely by Medicaid (a program Bush is cutting largely in the areas of long term care) and the proceeds of a malpractice lawsuit, exactly the kind that Bush and the Republicans are hoping to limit with new legislation capping awards (like they already have in Texas.) I'm not sure how Bush reconciles these issues with the one at hand.

Denial is a river in Egypt. No doctor who has actually examined Terri (never mind all those pundits on CNN) has said she has any chance of recovery. Don't you think if rehab could fix her after 15 years they would have tried it? The video is disturbing, but it's four years old and many say that even her uncontrollable reflexes to smile, grimace and look around have slowed quite a bit in the past few years.

NPR has been doing some terrific reporting on this whole situation and two things that were on yesterday have stuck with me:

First, an interview with Terri's court appointed advocate from 2003 (yes, contrary to what many would have you believe, she's had several court appointed advocates). He described an emotional deposition of Terri's family held by Michael Schiavo's attorneys. (Keep in mind this is a a case that has been in the court system for seven years.) Michael's attorneys asked her family to what lengths they'd be willing to go to save her. "Anything," they said. He put forth an example of diabetes, what if she needed an amputation? "Yes," they said. "Two amputations?" Yes! Three? Four? Yes! Anything! "What if she needed open heart surgery, would you do it?" Yes, they said, anything. By the time the attorney was finished with his gruesome descriptions, it was clear that the family irrationally would do anything to save Terri. Sadly, a decision has to be made.

The second thing that struck me was an interviewer asking one of Michael's attorneys the obvious question: Why doesn't he just divorce her? Michael had told him that as a young couple, they had attended several family funerals where family members had died after long periods of time on life support. "Don't let that ever happen to me," she said (supposedly) several times. When a woman is married, her husband is supposed to become her partner, her mate and the one who more than her family, can make a decision based on her wishes. This case will have stuck with all of us when it's finished. Whether the taste it leaves is one of sadness for her or disgust for the situation, it's a private glimpse into our nation's future and one family's struggle.


At Tue Mar 22, 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Excellent post. I don't know anything about the Schiavo's marriage, but I was struck when one of Terri's siblings (a brother, I believe) commented that he knew Terri and her wishes better than her husband. It just occurred to me that if one of my sisters, both of whom I love dearly by the way, tried to say they knew me better than my wife, it'd be a ridiculous statement.

And, the latest round of politics on this thing is despicable. I could expound upon that sentiment, but this rant does it ever so much more colorfully than I could hope to do.

At Tue Mar 22, 03:18:00 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

Exellent points. If you listen to the curs in congress or the blathering class on talk radio, you'd think that the overwhelming majority of Americans are up in arms about this. Why aren't the polls that show just the opposite being reported? I'm particularly struck by those talk radio hosts who insist that Ms. Schiavo isn't brain dead or in a vegetative state; as you note, all of her doctors (over the past 15 years) can't be wrong, nor can the dozens of courts who've examined this case over time. It's definitely denial on the part of Ms. Schiavo's parents, and playing to the far-right religious fanatics on the part of congress and talk radio. Just sad, all the way around.

At Tue Mar 22, 04:51:00 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Not only is the mainstream media not reporting that people aren't up in arms about this, CNN is actively trying to distort the public opinion on this thing. Mediamatters (liberal organization -- or at least anti-right wing organization) has a screenshot of a CNN poll that tries to turn this into a Republican/Democrat thing. The bar graph of CNN shows only the percentages from 53% to 63% - giving Democrats a huge bar favoring the court's decision to pull the tube verses small bars for Republicans and Independents. The poll actually say that Democrats are 62% in favor, Republicans are 54% in favor, and independents are 54% in favor with the poll having a margin of error of 7%.

Then we have Rick Santorum actively distorting the law he helped pass and the District Court judge's hearing on it. According to Santorum:

"U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore has defied Congress by not staying Terri Schiavo's starvation execution for the time it takes him to hold a full hearing on her case, a leading Republican senator said Tuesday.

"You have judicial tyranny here," Santorum told WABC Radio in New York. "Congress passed a law that said that you had to look at this case. He simply thumbed his nose at Congress."

"What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo," the Pennsylvania Republican explained. "That means he has to hold a new trial. That's what the statute said."

"What he's saying is, 'I don't have to hold a new trial because I've already determined that her rights have been protected,'" Santorum said.

"That's nice for him to say that But that's not what Congress told him to do," he added. "Judges should obey the law. And this judge - in my mind - simply ignored the law.""

Well, no you incredible assmunch, that's not what the Schiavo statute said. It was a horribly overreaching thing for Congress to do, but it didn't go nearly as far as Santorum suggests. It gave the Florida District Court authority to consider, de novo, whether any of Schiavo's *federal rights* had been violated. The court was then presented with a petition for injunctive relief. Without the Schiavo statute, he couldn't have considered that petition. Because of the statute he could. But he was still bound to apply existing laws concerning when to grant injunctive relief and concerning when federal rights have been violated. Using those legal standards, he said that there was little probability of the Schiavos prevailing on a claim that federal rights had been violated.

So, if there is any failing here, it is either that there haven't been any violations of federal rights here (likely) or Terri's parents' attorneys didn't do a good job. Because if they'd presented even a plausible case, the judge would have granted the injunction.

Anyay, Santorum is an assmunch. Alert the media.

At Tue Mar 22, 07:12:00 PM, Anonymous braingirl said...

I dislike his allegation that a) the judge has "defied Congress" and that b) the judge has behaved improperly by not granting a full hearing. It really makes me angry when I see people who either don't understand how "the law" works or distort it for their view.

That said, I really really like "assmunch".


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