Condemned to a living hell

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Nothing shows the sickening hypocrisy of George W. Bush and the Republican Party more clearly than their attempt to trample on the laws and the courts in their efforts to keep Terri Schiavo a living corpse.

They want to use her, or what remains of her, as some sort of repulsive cultural war trophy, with her still-breathing body as proof that they believe in the “sanctity of life.” Schiavo, if you’ve been surfing on Lake Erie for the past year, has been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990, when she was 26.

Her husband Michael, the person who should have full legal authority to make decisions for her, says she would never have wanted to live in that condition. That’s easy to believe, since she was sane. (If I ever get like that, my wife better put Drano, or something, in my IV, ASAP, or I solemnly vow to haunt her dreams with off-key Edith Piaf songs.)

What Michael Schiavo has wanted for years is to disconnect his wife’s feeding tube, so she will quietly expire. As far as we know, she’ll feel less pain from this than a begonia would, but, in any event, she could be sedated to make sure she feels no discomfort as she drifts off into eternity.

Unfortunately, her parents have no grasp on reality, and want to prolong her existence. They have been seized on and used as pawns by the “pro-life” nuts, including a gaggle of congressmen who vow to keep her “alive,” none of whom would vote one dime to save mentally healthy starving orphans in Africa.

Michael Schaivo has taken his case through court after court, and careful decision after careful decision has sided with him, saying he had every right to remove her feeding tube. Normally the right’s wingnuts in our society hope to get a case like this before the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, guess what. The Supremes had their chance — twice — and not one justice voted to touch the case either time. Not Antonin Scalia, not Clarence “How do I vote, Tony?” Thomas. That should have been the end of it, right there.

Surely our conservatives, who believe in the court system and the Constitution, would honor the decision of their own Supreme Court, right? Not this slimy crowd, who smelled political points to be scored. This weekend, Congress — which evidently doesn’t have anything to do, not with the health-care crisis and the huge budget deficits, etc. — rushed around to pass an emergency bill to allow Schiavo’s parents to file yet another lawsuit in federal court trying to get her feeding tube, which had been removed Friday, reconnected.

Incidentally, anyone who thinks Bill Clinton set the standard for bad taste needs to know that — in an effort to undermine the courts and postpone the removal of her feeding tube — the House Republicans subpoenaed Terri Schiavo herself to testify at a hearing, and the Senate “invited” her to speak at another hearing.

This is a woman who is no more capable of testifying than a bowl of pudding. Fortunately for the reputation of our so-called legislative leaders, a Florida state appellate judge ignored their antics, and ruled that the tube could be removed so that her suffering could end.

But at press time, the Republicans in Congress were still trying to prolong the horror. President George W. Bush, compassionate conservative that he is, said he’d fly back to Washington from Texas to sign the bill. This is a man, everyone should understand, who wouldn’t lift sanctions on delivering medical supplies to sick Iraqi children before he began bombing them.

The usually restrained New York Times wrote that “Congress’s rash assumption of judicial power and trampling on established state and federal constitutional precedents in ‘right to die’ cases is nothing short of breathtaking.”

Terri’s husband put it better. “I’m outraged, and I think that every American in this country should also be outraged, that this government is trampling all over a personal family matter that has been adjudicated in the courts for seven years,” said Michael Schaivo, who has likely suffered more than anyone in this matter. He lost his beautiful and lively wife when they were both young, but instead of being able to try to get on with life, he has had to spend his time battling in the courts to allow him to bring her pathetic parody of existence to an end.

Here’s what some decent congressman should have done with that bill: Attach an amendment specifying that every congressman who voted for it must volunteer to spend a week dressing Terri’s bedsores and removing her wastes, and also donate that week’s salary to the astronomical costs of her medical care.

You know what outcome that would produce. Much has been made of the fact that Schiavo didn’t leave behind a “living will,” a written directive for what to do if something like this happened to her. Frankly, I doubt that it would make any difference to the fanatics if she had engraved her wishes on stone tablets.

Yet sooner or later, as we age, many of us will end up in a ghastly way — some of us perhaps even worse off than Terri Schiavo. That’s why, sooner or later, what Jack Kevorkian was trying to do — give people the right to make their own choice — will be seen as the only sensible and moral option. Six years ago this week, Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder for performing euthanasia on a dying man who wanted to die.

Regardless of what you thought of Kevorkian, who made physician-assisted suicide famous in the 1990s, he wouldn’t have helped Terri Schiavo. He insisted his patients be conscious, rational and able to ask to die. Without any doubt, he pushed the envelope too far, perhaps out of some self-destructive impulse, and in the end, severely harmed his cause. Today, he’s a political prisoner of sorts, though few would use that term.

Last week I talked to Mike Wallace, whose broadcast of Kevorkian’s videotaped euthanasia in 1998 on 60 Minutes resulted in his conviction. Wallace would like to interview Kevorkian again. But after he was convicted, the Engler administration decreed that prisoners could no longer give broadcast interviews. The legendary newsman has tried to talk to Gov. Jennifer Granholm about this, but he told me she won’t even take his calls.

That doesn’t surprise me; she’s a politician who is as empty a suit as any I have ever seen; nearly all profile, very little courage. Michael Schiavo and Jack Kevorkian, whatever you think of them, have the guts to make hard decisions.

That’s why they will someday be seen as heroes, long after the gutless wonders with breathy voices are forgotten.


Mea culpa: Last week in discussing WDIV’s ham-handed firing of Emery King, I wrote that “with his exit goes the last reason to watch local news in Detroit.” Fox 2 News’s Ken Martinek protested, noting that they not only have an African-American main anchor, but they had broad diversity, including even an old white guy like me, and do a fair amount of investigative digging.

He is absolutely right, and I apologize.

Rupert Murdoch may be loathsome, but the Fox local in Detroit frequently does an excellent job, airing often the best local report in town, though, as with the other stations, it doesn’t break any record for depth of coverage. I should also note that in the past, Fox 2 occasionally has paid me small sums to comment about politics, but otherwise their judgment has been pretty sound.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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