Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"There is no legal issue"

California coast
Salon.com interviews Dr. John Paris, bioethicist and Catholic priest, and he says "This has nothing to do with the sanctity of life":
So what do you think this case is really about?

The power of the Christian right. This case has nothing to do with the legal issues involving a feeding tube. The feeding tube issue was definitively resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 in Cruzan vs. Director. The United States Supreme Court ruled that competent patients have the right to decline any and all unwanted treatment, and unconscious patients have the same right, depending upon the evidentiary standard established by the state. And Florida law says that Terri Schiavo has more than met the standard in this state. So there is no legal issue.

I'm told that my series on Reconstructionism is very popular, and this is yet another battle in the authoritarians' war. Michael Schiavo, the husband, has been repeatedly found to be carrying out his wife's wishes, which were to not be kept in this state.

Groups like Operation Rescue (headed by Randall Terry) have been among the most aggressive in fighting to keep the Ms. Schiavo on an unwanted feeding tube. OR is the Earth First! of anti-abortion groups, and has been bankrolled by TfK regular Larry Pratt. Here's what I quoted in October, from a PDF newsletter of Planned Parenthood:
In 1990, when Randall Terry took Operation Rescue “underground” to avoid paying court-ordered judgments, Pratt came to his aid. The crisis began when federal agents seized O.R.‘s bank accounts in December 1989. 0.R violated an injunction not to block New York City clinics, then refused to pay a $50,000 tine. One of Terry’s aides met Larry Pratt at a “rescue” movement meeting and asked for his assistance. Pratt’s Committee to Protect the Family Foundation raised nearly $150,000 to pay O.R.‘s bills, without O.R. ever holding the money.

The tangled web, right? It was this incident which inspired the Schumer amendment to the perennial bankruptcy bill, which (in my non-lawyer interpretation) forbade groups which had valid legal judgments against them from receiving bankruptcy protection. This amendment was enough to kill the bill for many years, until this one.

I won't pull the entire credit card industry into the authoritarian camp, but it's clear that Randall Terry is a general in the movement. He isn't interested in Ms. Schiavo, he's interested in creating a wedge.

As it happens, he might be wedging himself out of power. ABC did a poll which indicated that 63% of Americans support removing the feeding tube, 70% thing Congress's involvement is "not appropriate, 60% oppose federal intervention, and 67% think that "political advantage" is the "reason political leaders are trying to keep Schiavo alive." Evangelicals are evenly split between supporting and opposing removing the tube, and a majority of them oppose federal intervention. Catholics are even more opposed than evangelicals.

Remember, one of the claims made by the parents is that Schiavo would have changed her mind when the Pope clarified his position on the right to die. But 63% of Catholics support removing the tube. That's a pretty big split in the authoritarian Reconstructionist base.

That's not the point though. The point is that 87% would want the tube pulled if they were in Schiavo's position. Congress and the authoritarians just stepped in between what 87% of Americans would want for themselves. That's a wedge. Nothing gets 87% support. And it's not just in polls. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that some form of assisted suicide/death with dignity/"good death" is coming to be expected by patients with terminal illnesses. Regardless of the legal landscape, a medical consensus and set of best practices is forming, including patients who voluntarily forego food as their chosen means of ending life.

As they say, where the people lead, the leaders will follow.

Death Letter” by The White Stripes from the album De Stijl (2000, 4:29).