Democrats & Liberals Archives

Leave It Alone

The news, as I wake up, is that Terr1 Schiavo’s parents have lost the case. I feel for them, but I am relieved. Terr1’s case, right or wrong, was lost according to the law, and we should not underestimate the good that has done.

The controversy, unlike what some would think, has not really been about whether we are going to kill a young woman, but rather, about whether there was a young woman there in the first place, and whether her immediate next of kin could fulfill her final wishes.

There has been ample opportunity, through a number of trials, for her parents to make the case that they knew her wishes best, and that Terri was alive beneath that impassive exterior. That is what several years worth of litigation has been about. Fifteen years have passed since Terri slipped away, poisoned by her heart's own potassium. Terri's parents have been given years to prove her continued life, and years to prove their case that they and not the husband should be the guardian.

This wasn't some decision out of the blue, but one backed by trials that have gone on for years, and which have been consistently decided in the favor of the husband. The trouble has been that one of the sides has decided that this is not about Guardianship, but instead about life, and one of these sides has decided, but has been unable to prove, that there still is a Terri Schiavo to save, and will not respect the decisions handed down.

We live under the rule of law, and although the living remains of Terri Schiavo will pass away under it, that rule of law saves lives on the balance. It keeps our Congress from acting as judge and jury on private citizens and public rivals. It keeps the Congress from passing ex post facto laws. It prevents the Congress from dictating the judgements of the court, and makes the courts a coequal branch of the government whether the Congress likes it or not.

It is important that these things are respected. Republicans trying to save our culture and the world with it, have pushed things to the limit and sometimes past it in trying to manifest their will. What they have not considered is that the limits placed on them are there for good reason, and that the possibility that the resistance they are facing from the courts are honest legal disagreements and not just a product of partisan politics.

One can believe with all one's heart in the righteousness of one's actions and still be wrong. People talk about Terri smiling, however, Real smiles are mostly involuntary to begin with, and the tightening of muscles of the jaw during a vegetative state can create the false impression of a smile. People talk about her eyes moving, but eye movement is controlled by nuclei in the midbrain that exist independent of the cerebrum, and the parts of the brain that recognize movement run through the midbrain instead of her destroyed cortex. There are many functions that do not require a conscious mind. In fact, most don't. Our conscious mind is not so much of a determinant of many actions as we would think.

Schiavo has not neglected his wife. I heard on CNN that Terri has never suffered a bedsore, an extraordinary thing when it comes to immobilized patients like herself. Bedsores are what killed Christopher Reeve, a rich and well cared for quadriplegic. Terri didn't even have the benefit of being conscious. The fact that she hasn't died after fifteen years of being in this state should signify somethings. As should the fact that she hasn't woken up in that time. People who spend this much time in this state rarely recover, and this whole thing smacks to me of people who want to believe in a miracle rather than acknowledge a tragedy. I think Michael Schiavo is a husband who has accepted a medical reality, and now wants to move on in his life, and let Terri's long vacated body go. I think many people want to use this as a way to gain more power in determining medical ethics, and thereby abortion.

While I oppose abortion myself, I want to preserve the rule of law and people's right to sovereignty over their body at the same time. The death of the unborn must be ended, but not in such a way that simply deprives somebody else of their due process.

In the end, doing good is a complicated thing, for our attempts at good deeds can have unexpected, even counterproductive results. I have continually pressed this point because I think it allows us to recognize two things: that we on both sides of political issues can do harm to one another, and the intent and spirit to do good is not enough to ensure that it is done. We must not fall asleep to the danger of well-intended tyranny, lest we become its victims.

Our country was set up so we would all together decide what was best for our country, and not simply have the elite of one political faction or another permanently emplaced to tell the rest of us poor dumb fools what we can say, do, and believe. I think God does not think much of people making death threats to the judges in the case, or calling people murderers when those people believe they are only letting nature and perhaps God's will take its course. We must recognize that the will to do good is not exclusive to one side or another. Let us find the wisdom to more prudently navigate the next such incident.

We hardly need to be discussing this subject in such a hateful manner, and such hatred can do as much harm to people's souls as any life-and-death situation wrongly decided.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at March 22, 2005 7:24 AM