my pissant two cents

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

citizen terri

just when you think congressional republicans could get no more venal, cynical and contemptible, they find a new low to reach.

it wasn't enough that they changed the ethics rules so house minority leader tom de lay (r-tx) would not have to give up his position in the event of a criminal indictment for excessively shady, if not entirely illegal, campaign finances. it wasn't enough that they ram-rodded a bankruptcy law through congress that protects rich debtors and credit card companies, but puts everyone else on the chopping block. and don't get me started on the alaskan national wildlife refuge....

no, those were peanuts. now they are taking extraordinary measures, calling an extraordinary session, to force a hollow shell of a woman to live. not content to let state courts interpret the law and ensure that all appropriate measures are taken, the republican congress forced through a law that applies only to her, and does nothing more than command a federal court to review her case.

poor terri schiavo. she has been in a "persistent vegetative state" since 1990, when a heart attack caused her to suffer irreparable brain damage. her husband, scott schiavo, has been working for these 15 years to finally end the artificial life support that has kept her alive in only the most primitive sense of the word. her parents and siblings have fought to keep her alive, while mr. schiavo has sought to end her non-life, citing her desire to avoid such indignity.

last friday, after years of legal wrangling, medical analysis and ethical rumination, a florida judge ordered that ms. schiavo's feeding tube be removed, so that she may die. that should have been the last word on the matter.

but no. the g.o.p., according to a memo published by, thought the schiavo case "a great political issue" that would "excite" the christian fundamentalists who make up the president's base (the unfathomably rich notwithstanding). so they went into action, and the separation of powers be damned.

the law they passed, and which the president signed into law at 1:11 a.m. monday (cutting short a vacation-- which he wouldn't do a few years back when the intelligence community warned of imminent, catastrophic danger from muslim fundamentalists), is so colossally stupid and cynical that no one believes it has a chance of success. leave alone, for the moment, that the congress has no authority to tell the courts how they must decide cases. and this law comes very close to doing so, since it clearly expresses hostility to friday's florida decision and all but directs the federal court how to rule. rather than being so blatant, it directs a federal court to hear the case, which florida courts have been doing since clinton's first administration. it applies only to the schiavo case, and provides an avenue to judicial review only to schiavo's parents.

strike one came this morning. the federal judge who heard the parents' argument yesterday ruled that there is no violation of terri schiavo's rights in the order that resulted in her feeding tube being removed. district judge james whittemore found that "theresa schiavo's life and liberty interests were adequately protected by the extensive process provided in the state courts."

the case will be appealed to the 11th circuit, with a result that will be almost moot, as either side is likely to appeal from that result. then it goes to the supreme court. there, things get worse for the parents. there is precedent that states a patient may refuse extraordinary life-saving measures (cruzan v. missouri dept. of health, 1990), and another that states that final judicial decisions should not be disturbed (plaut v. spendthrift farm, 1995).

this may be of little consequence, since the five conservative justices have shown little respect for stare decisis when it interferes with their political ends. there is, however, a bit of a bump in the road, since justice scalia wrote the plaut opinion, and chief justice rehnquist affirmed the cruzan decision in a later opinion.

but let us not forget how little the right demands of its leaders by way of intellectual integrity. after all, rehnquist and scalia were two of the five justices who made fredo the president. despite their alleged love of federalism and states' rights, they dove right into bush v. gore to take the analysis of florida law right out of the hands of florida's judges.

for that matter, take the dolt-in-chief. he rushed back to d.c. from his crawford, texas, ranch to sign "terri's law," so that she would remain all-but-dead. but just six short years ago, as governor of texas, he signed a law that made the patient's guardian and doctors the final arbiters of the life-support decision, provided there was evidence that further medical treatment would be futile. the law also permits the hospital to withdraw life support against the family's wishes, if the patient is too poor to pay for further treatment at another facility....

ironically, last week, a 6-month old infant in houston was removed from life support-- over his mother's protestations-- because a doctor said it was pointless to go further. the legal basis? bush's 1999 "advance directives act."

and on a further irony/hypocrisy note, those tort-reforming, medicare-throttling republicans are pushing for life for a woman whose sole means of paying for her life-sustaining machinery come from medicare and-- get this-- the medical malpractice lawsuit spawned by the treatment that led to her sorry state.

lest you think that there is nowhere for the g.o.p. to go but up, remember that there is a midterm election next year.

nadirs unimaginable are just over the horizon.


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