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March 20, 2005 - A Private Matter Becomes Extremely Public

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The story is breaking too late to cover fully – but as of today –


Schiavo Battle Brings Life's End Into Discussion

Robin Toner and Carl Hulse, The New York Times, March 20, 2005


Congressional leaders reached a compromise Saturday on legislation to force the case of Terri Schiavo into federal court, an extraordinary intervention intended to prolong the life of the brain-damaged woman whose condition has reignited a painful national debate over when medical treatment should be withdrawn.


Top lawmakers in both the House and the Senate said they hoped to pass the compromise bill as early as Sunday. They said it would allow Ms. Schiavo's parents to ask a federal judge to restore her feeding tube on the grounds that their daughter's constitutional rights were being violated by the withholding of nutrition needed to keep her alive.


Conservative lawmakers had scrambled to find a way to override a Florida judge's order Friday to remove her feeding tube. Ms. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, has maintained for years that his wife would not want to be kept alive in her current state by such artificial means.


Ms. Schiavo suffered extensive brain damage when her heart stopped briefly 15 years ago due to a potassium deficiency; she remains in what doctors have testified is a "persistent vegetative state."


She left no written directive, but her husband testified that she had earlier said she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Ms. Schiavo has been the subject of a seven-year legal battle between her husband and her parents, who believe she is responsive and want to keep her alive.


Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas and the House majority leader at the center of the Congressional intervention, said on Saturday: "We should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a living human being. That is the very least we can do." President Bush has indicated he would sign the measure.


Reaction –


While lawmakers wrestled with legislation on Capitol Hill, the debate played out around the country. Social conservatives asserted that it was essential for Congress to step into the long legal battle between Ms. Schiavo's parents and her husband, arguing that her case represents a test of the political system and of the culture itself.


But in random interviews around the country, many Americans questioned why Congress was involved in what is often an intensely private matter. Steve Reed, 57, a clerk at a Chicago law firm, asserted: "It is not the business of Congress." Charles Benjamin, 40, a certified public accountant who lives in Bolingbrook, Ill., described it as "a typical example of government intrusion into our private lives, if you ask me."


Jonathan Wells, 29, an environmental a in Atlanta, said, "It is a family issue. At most it's a state issue. Congress shouldn't step in."


But social conservatives, who have generated tens of thousands of calls and e-mail messages in recent days, urged lawmakers to stay in the fight. "Today it's Terri, tomorrow it's another disabled person," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, one of many groups pushing Congress to act. "We've tolerated abortion in this country for the last 30 years, and now we're talking about eliminating those who cannot speak for themselves."


Advocates of the right to decline medical treatment said that Congressional intervention could set a dangerous precedent.


"In this political climate, with this kind of thing going on in Congress, everyone must take steps to protect themselves - making an advance directive, documenting their wishes, making sure their loved ones know about them," said Barbara Coombs Lee, co-chief executive officer of Compassion and Choices in Portland, and an advocate of Oregon's assisted suicide law.


"The greatest fear of our constituents is that other people - complete strangers - will make end-of-life decisions for them," Ms. Lee added. "And God forbid that it would be politicians.”


Reasoning –


The Schiavo case was striking a particular chord among social conservatives because, they asserted, it showed the power and what Mr. Perkins called "the arrogance" of the judiciary involved in the case. They were all the more enraged on Friday, after a showdown between Congressional leaders and Judge George W. Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, the presiding judge in Ms. Schiavo's case since 1998. When the House and Senate failed to agree on legislation earlier in the week, House and Senate committees tried to block the removal by issuing subpoenas to Ms. Schiavo and her husband.


Judge Greer rejected those efforts, saying Congress had no jurisdiction in the case. After his ruling, the House committee made an emergency request to the Supreme Court to try to reinsert the feeding tube while pursuing appeals in lower courts, but the Supreme Court rejected the request, without explanation.


Digby at Hullabaloo here -


This reminds me of another issue in which the Republicans were willing to flout all the known laws that really protect families in their zeal to pander to the radicals in their base. Little Elian. In that case they were more than willing to keep a little boy from his own father because they didn't approve of the father's politics. In this case they are flouting the very essence of what constitutes a family by insisting that they have the right to veto the wishes of both the patient and the patient's spouse.

The Schiavo case also shows that their braying about the sanctity of marriage is a load of rubbish. One of the things that gays want from the marriage contract is the right to make decisions for their spouse in case like this one. Clearly, those rights are only applicable even to straight people if Bill Frist and Randall Terry approve. Otherwise, they may actually enact an act of Congress to stop you - especially if it's "a great political issue" that "excites their base." I guess the traditional view of marriage isn't so sacred after all, is it? And here I thought this stuff was handed down from God. Go figure.


And that is perhaps a tenth of what he has to say.  Click on the link for all of it.


Over at "Talking Points Memo" the guest writer is Harry Shearer, as the regular voice, Josh Marshall, is off to get married this weekend.  Shearer is a voice on The Simpsons - he does Principal Skinner and many others - and he was Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap.  His odd satire show from Santa Monica - Le Show - is syndicated all over.  Anyway he says this whole let-her-live business is not open for discussion.  See this


Emailers have been advising me to weigh in on the Schiavo case, citing the surface absurdity of Congress subpoenaing a brain-dead witness. Ducks in a barrel, there, the brain-dead subpoenaing the - well, you get it. But beyond that I'm loath to go, despite the obvious cable-news-and-blogger code that you have to have an opinion about everything. Part of what's so dispiriting about this place at this time is the sense that, in a totally non-economic sense, the public sector is crowding out the private sector. ... Laci and Scott Peterson were private people having a private tragedy. Their lives were literally none of our business. Same with this family. I understand that in both cases, the stories were ginned up because they played into the social-conservative agenda, but that's no reason for everybody to jump in. So my lips are zipped.  - Harry Shearer


Yep, but you can always talk about the politicians.


Our friend Vince in Rochester on Friday noted this –


We had one of those "reality more wonderful than fiction" moments today.  In the national political struggle NOT to allow the Florida woman who has been comatose for fifteen years to die with some dignity - today we had a member of Congress utter the ultimate quotable quote of the week - or was it? (I presume he is her Florida represenative - but the network I had on cleverly left his name off the screen as I watched his sound bite - evidently to protect the poor guy).


He's speaking out in support of the legislative initiative - it's not enough that insurance firms dictate medical decisions - now Congress wants to create precedence to legislate individual life/death decisions - we move our decision criteria from individual health to statistically average economics to... political fiat?


In defense of such a move our noble rep made the claim before the cameras today that "This woman is alive!  She's alive!  She's as alive as... I am!"


Can't touch that one!


Yeah – saw that.  As we used to say in North Carolina, I just about fell out.


I need to figure out what congressman or senator on MSNBC Hardball said to Chris Matthews that the doctors were all wrong – the woman could obviously think and feel.  All she needed was speech therapy.  Matthews asked how he knew that and the doctors didn’t.  He just grinned.  It was way cool.


We live in amazing times.


Say, could the congress pass a law to outlaw living wills – so even if you signed one saying if you were in this condition on life support and wanted no “extraordinary measures” taken, well, the government had a compelling interest in keeping what was left of you “alive” in some form, or the few parts of you that still functioned? 


Interesting.  Well, they say this would only apply in this case.  But what about this?


The law as described is unconstitutional as a bill of attainder against Michael Schiavo, the hospital and the other parties against whom the law will be directed. I don't know what other legal scholars say, but I don't have to. This is a clear cut case.


I believe this bill of attainder business is to forbid congress from making laws that apply just to individuals.  Well, times are changing.  Yeah, you can’t do that – except when you can, until the courts rule you can’t. 


Okay, now it’s tinfoil hat time.


Bob, in these pages known as the World’s Laziest Journalist, listens to the radio –


I heard on the Mike Savage radio show (Savage Nation) so this is unsubstantiated and at the rumor level, but a caller who purportedly has followed this case for three years on the internet alleges that, the Schiavo lady was getting speech therapy some years back and the husband forbid any further attempts to get her to speak. 


Reportedly she had been showing some speech progress.


The husband stopped it and forbids any further attempts.


It seems that this case is complex and complicated.  Suppose (just for the sake of argument) that the husband (who is alleged to be a medical support level employee such as a nurse) bashed her and didn't finish her off.  She almost dies, but then hangs on.  He forbids efforts to teach her to speak after he gets the big insurance settlement.


He swears he will do everything to help her live.  Then, after he gets the money, he wants to cut off the speech therapy and pull the plug.


I'll try to find out the name of the online site for more information.


Just checked and Savage doesn't have the link up yet.


I'm not saying I believe anything.  I'd like to know more about this case.


A man's gotta believe in something … and I believe I'll have another drink.


Cheers from deep in Conspiracyville!


-          Bob "Roosevelt knew they were going to bomb Pearl Harbor!" P




The URL for the lady who called Savage about the Schiavo case.

Try reading this URL - http://www.jewsforlife.org/Article_Detail.cfm?ID=358


I don't vouch for it or against it.  Just suggest reading it.


Oh my!


Vince in Rochester replies


And after having read the accusation page on Schiavo's husband - MY retort is why after 15 yrs is this (apparently) only coming up at or after the twelfth hour on a Right To Life page?  If substantial why wasn't this picked up by legitimate media - or for that matter illegitimate media - in the years this has been moving in and out of the highest courts?  After all, there ARE a lot of hungry reporters out there in search of the holy grail of the national spotlight!


Bob fires back –


Why wasn't this picked up by legitimate media?  Fifteen years ago, things were quite different in the world of communications.  The Internet has changed the world.  What was a very big story in Southern Florida could easily have been unknown to a lean and hungry investigative reporter in (say) Concordia, Kansas or even a top level one in San Francisco or Austin.


If it was getting any coverage at the time in Florida, it would be easy to overlook a story of a woman who went into a coma after a fall at home.  The conservative talks show fad came along.


The Internet came along and made it easier for folks who were interested in that genre of story (right to life) to follow something outside their home town (which happens to be NYC for the website).


Why now at the twelfth hour?  It seems that these stories always get very dramatic at the last minute.  Dead man walking.  The Kevin Spacey movie about saving a man on death row.  As the moment of truth approaches it quite literally is raised to the level of "do or die."


Yes, an impartial investigative reporter would be more … unbiased than a person on a right to life website, but birds of a feather.  Do criminal lawyers know what is going on in the area of (say) the latest medical techniques?  "Not my job!"  Lawyers read about lawyers.  Doctors read about other doctors and medicine.  Reporters read "Editor & Publisher" and Jim Romenesko's website. 


Who knew that a murder in Kansas could be turned into a top selling book?  (“In Cold Blood.”)  Who knew that the actor in that film would become well known for being accused of murder?  (Robert Blake.)


There are many hungry reporters out there in search of the holy grail but like the search for gold is explained in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" the person who finds the prize (or gold) is paid not only for his (her) own work, but also (symbolically) the work of those who tried and failed. "In Cold Blood" made tons of money, but there are many small town reporters out there still waiting for "THE BIG STORY" to come along.


Communications were rather good fifteen years ago, but not that good.  Folks outside southern Florida were probably not aware of the story at all.  (John Dillinger was arrested in Truckee, California and the sheriff contacted Washington with the terrific news.  He was informed that Dillinger was in prison in Indiana and they should apologize to the guy in their jail.   A few hours (four?) later Washington called back.  "Don't let him go!"  Too late.  You won't find that story in a Dillinger biography, but you will find it in a feature story in a Tahoe weekly from the late Sixties.  (One of my coworkers did the story.)


At this point, I'd resort to the cliché:  Better late than never.


Vince isn’t buying –


I'll agree down to the wire that you can't judge pre-Reality Show America with what we live with now in 2005!  We've become what we ate just this past week - no doubt!  And I loved both Sarandon and Spacey in their respective movie roles (if you can 'love' that genre to start with!).


But going back to a very simple big thought - hasn't this case been before the Florida State Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court on several different occasions now?  Correct me if my casual information is incorrect.  But I find that level of 'exposure' to stretch credibility just a tad - if substantial claims against key parties are only now coming to light. 


In other words, what's the U.S. Supreme Court doing with multiple engagements here - or has our system of legal vetting gone to the same folks responsible for vetting contestants on our Island shows?


Well, regarding Vince’s casual information see this -


... a bone scan was taken in 1991 and that the doctor who read it saw on it evidence of past trauma at various places on Terri's body. Some consider that evidence of a severe beating by her husband, others consider it evidence consistent with bulimia, a fall, and CPR by paramedics. Whether trauma really happened, or what kind, or when, are all unclear.


The bone scan was not raised in the original trial regarding Terri's wishes. The issue was raised by the Schindlers in a November 2002 emergency motion. Judge Greer rejected the matter as being irrelevant to the issue of Terri's wishes.


The site also has links to the court proceedings – should you want to read transcripts.  Live by the internet – die by the internet.


So.  Big doings in congress now.  Legislation in progress.


What to make of it all?  Overall, this is a sad business, and a private business – and everyone has an agenda.  Those of us who have faced this decision – to pull the plug – know the decision is agonizing.  I don’t want politicians at my side telling me what I have to do.  At Christmas in 1999, when this came up for me, had Tom Delay walked in to that Pittsburgh hospital and told me what was right or wrong and what I had to do… I’d have walked away from him.  Violence is pointless.


Of course the irony is that before Delay got into politics he ran a successful Orkin business in Texas – he was an exterminator.


Late breaking -


Ric in Paris asks if “the flap over the Florida case has been brewed up over this weekend to distract from the reality of the Iraq war second anniversary?”  Maybe so.


I do not see a middle ground – considering this below.


1.) Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader here -


"The case of Terri Schiavo is a sad and tragic situation. Congressional leaders have no business substituting their judgment for that of multiple state courts that have extensively considered the issues in this intensely personal family matter. The actions of the majority in attempting to pass constitutionally-dubious legislation are highly irregular and an improper use of legislative authority.


"Michael Schiavo is faced with a devastating decision, but, having been through the proper legal process, the decision for his wife's care belongs to him and to God.


"This rush to exploit a personal tragedy is not fair to those involved and will not create good policy."


2.) Florida Democratic House Members here


''The Republicans in Congress do not like the results that the Florida courts have reached and they are going to this extraordinary remedy of now stripping the Florida court of its jurisdiction so that maybe there can be another outcome,'' Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Boca Raton, told NBC's Today show.


Said Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Democrat from Broward: `It is inappropriate for the U.S. Congress or any legislative body to insert itself into a gut-wrenching controversy that should only involve the family.''


3.) Tom DeLay of Texas – leader of the House Republican majority here  

"Mrs. Schiavo's life is not slipping away - it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act of medical terrorism," DeLay said. "Mr. Schiavo's attorney's characterization of the premeditated starvation and dehydration of a helpless woman as 'her dying process' is as disturbing as it is unacceptable. What is happening to her is not compassion - it is homicide. She doesn't need to die, and as long as Terri Schiavo can breathe and her supporters can pray, we will not rest."


4.) Digby at Hullabaloo here


By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on
Medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schivos because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.


4.) The Constitution 

Ariticle 1, Clause 3. No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed [this link has a discussion of this with case law]


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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