Jewish World Review March 22, 2005 / 11 Adar II, 5765
Cruel and unusual
If the tragic case of Terri Schiavo shows nothing else, it shows
how easily "the right to die" can become the right to kill. It is hard to
believe that anyone, regardless of their position on euthanasia, would have
chosen the agony of starvation and dehydration as the way to end someone's
A New York Times headline on March 20th tried to assure us:
"Experts Say Ending Feeding Can Lead to a Gentle Death" but you can find
experts to say anything. In a December 2, 2002 story in the same New York
Times, people starving in India were reported as dying, "often clutching
No murderer would be allowed to be killed this way, which would
almost certainly be declared "cruel and unusual punishment," in violation of
the Constitution, by virtually any court.
Terri Schiavo's only crime is that she has become an
inconvenience and is caught in the merciless machinery of the law. Those
who think law is the answer to our problems need to face the reality that
law is a crude and blunt instrument.
Make no mistake about it, Terri Schiavo is being killed. She is
not being "allowed to die."
She is not like someone whose breathing, blood circulation,
kidney function, or other vital work of the body is being performed by
machines. What she is getting by machine is what all of us get otherwise
every day food and water. Depriving any of us of food and water would
kill us just as surely, and just as agonizingly, as it is killing Terri
Would I want to be kept alive in Terri Schiavo's condition? No.
Would I want to be killed so slowly and painfully? No. Would anyone? I doubt
Every member of Terri Schiavo's family wants her kept alive
except the one person who has a vested interest in her death, her husband.
Her death will allow him to marry the woman he has been living with, and
having children by, for years.
Legally, he is Terri's guardian and that legal technicality is
all that gives him the right to starve her to death. Courts cannot remove
guardians without serious reasons. But neither should they refuse to remove
guardians with a clear conflict of interest.
There are no good solutions to this wrenching situation. It is
the tragedy of the human condition in its most stark form.
The extraordinary session of Congress, calling members back from
around the country, with the President flying back from his home in Texas in
order to be ready to sign legislation dealing with Terri Schiavo, are things
that do us credit as a nation.
Even if critics who claim that this is being done for political
or ideological reasons are partially or even wholly correct, they still miss
the point. It is the public's sense of concern in some cases, outrage
that is reflected by their elected representatives.
What can Congress do and what effect will it have? We do not
know and Congress does not know. Those who are pushing for legislation to
save Terri Schiavo are obviously trying to avoid setting a precedent or
upsetting the Constitutional balance.
It is an old truism that hard cases make bad law. No one wants
all such cases to end up in either Congress or the federal courts. But
neither do decent people want an innocent woman killed because she was
inconvenient and a court refused to recognize the conflict of interests in
her legal guardian.
The fervor of those who want to save Terri Schiavo's life is
understandable and should be respected, even by those who disagree. What is
harder to understand is the fervor and even venom of those liberals who have
gone ballistic ostensibly over state's rights, over the Constitutional
separation of powers, and even over the sanctity of family decisions.
These are not things that liberals have any track record of
caring about. Is what really bothers them the idea of the sanctity of life
and what that implies for their abortion issue? Or do they hate any
challenge to the supremacy of judges on which the whole liberal agenda
depends a supremacy that the Constitution never gave the judiciary?
If nothing else comes out of all this, there needs to be a
national discussion of some humane way to end life in those cases when it
has to be ended and this may not be one of those cases.
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