Sunday morning, I turned on the television for my regular installment of “Insulting Your Intelligence”, otherwise known as “ABC This Week With George Stephanopolous”.
The beginning topic, not surprisingly, was the Terri Schiavo case. What was disappointing to me, was the jelly-spined acquiescence of George Will to the argument that Terri’s murder was a good and proper thing. Will began his sermon with the notion that “all steps of due process have been followed”, and followed with the arrogant notion that because Terri married Michael, this gives Michael the only say in the life-and-death decision. Will went so far as to claim that a decision to review the case in a Federal Court “would overturn the culture and standards of hundreds of years”, simply because it considered more than the will of a spouse. This attitude was, at best, naïve, and suggested to me a mind concerned with expedience rather than even the most fundamental purpose of law.
Let’s step back for a moment, to Will’s statements. Will appeared to be very uncomfortable even discussing the case. Not surprising, since the deliberate death by starvation, even denying water, to an innocent woman, amounts to the worst sort of torture, the kind of treatment we would not allow a person or group to mete out even to a murderer, even to Osama bin Laden. The very notion that it would be sanctioned for an American citizen innocent of any offense is obscene on its face, the more so when there is no clear evidence that Terri wants anything of the sort, and doubt even remains about the specific nature and degree of her condition. Also, George Will is certainly intelligent enough, to recognize that he was clearly casting his lot among the “Kill The Inconvenient” crowd. His statements, however he considered them, were not sympathetic to either the innocent or the moral elements of the matter.
Considering the matter of Due Process, then, we can break the case down to the essential players and events (a good review of additional relevant details can be found here):
· Terri Schiavo was reported to have had a heart attack in 1991 by her husband Michael, who reported finding her at home. It’s worth noting that the 1992 Malpractice suit Michael won, was based on a mis-diagnosis by the doctors and hospital treating Terri. If it happens that Michael did not correctly relate the events which led to Terri’s condition (see the reference to the 2002 bone scan which indicates unreported injuries to Terri at the same time as the “heart attack” Michael claimed, which are not consistent with a heart attack and fall, but instead indicate a physical attack on her person), this becomes germane not only to a proper diagnosis, but establishes a criminal motive for Michael’s desire to see her die.
· At the time of the Malpractice trial, Michael made statements about wanting to care for his wife until his death. It was not until after the malpractice award, that Michael “remembered” Terri wanted to die, a statement not supported by any other relative, or by any sort of documentation, such as a DNR order.
· Michael denied Terri any substantive therapy, even refusing to allow for a urinary tract infection to be treated, or for Terri to receive a P.E.T. or MRI. This conduct is not only malicious on its face, but violates specific conditions of the malpractice award.
· The only judge to consider the evidence in the case, is Judge Greer. All appeals courts reviews have dealt solely with procedural issues. Judge Greer has over-ruled a Superior State Judge, and now defied a Congressional Subpeona, in what can only be deemed egotism and spite.
· The medical diagnosis of Terri’s condition is in serious dispute, even by board-certified Neurologists. This point is largely due to the lack of relevant tests, so that any decision to end her life is premature, by definition.
Taken at the essential level, what we have here is one man who wants Terri dead, for reasons which cannot be confirmed to be sympathetic to Terri by any reasonable standard. The sole authority pushing for Terri’s death is one State Judge, who has admitted he refused to consider sworn testimony from acknowledged medical experts in the condition assigned to Terri. The husband and judge have refused to allow any sort of review of the statements and facts, laboratory test of the physical evidence, or procedural oversight to the matter. And George Will is cool with that. We must have multi-level review and oversight before sending a terrorist to Guantanamo, yet we cannot take a closer look before torturing a disabled woman to death. No person with a conscience could reasonably make such a balance, yet there they are.
As to the matter of Michael’s rights as a husband, here are the essentials:
· As I noted above, there is reason to doubt Michael’s explanation of how Terri became injured. There is forensic evidence of unreported injury, consistent with abuse.
· Michael did not produce any claim that Terri wished to deny treatment, or to die, until after he had money in the bank from a malpractice settlement, money which would be depleted by letting Terri live, and at the point where it became obvious that Terri would continue to live unless murdered, Michael suddenly “remembered” a death wish.
· Michael has effectively remarried another woman, to the point of living with her for years and having children with her, even while he remains married to Terri. That’s either Bigamy or Adultery (or both), but in any case is serious grounds for removing his standing as guardian. By no rational standard could Michael’s conduct be called consistent with the actions of a loving spouse.
So, once we consider the facts, George’s claims fall of their own weight. It’s not strange that people would make them; there are any number of self-serving hypocrites, willing to allow any sort of crime against someone else, so long as they get what they want. It is rather sad to see such conduct by a man considered to be Conservative, however, though it is illustrative.
One of the strange qualities of majority, is that the majority is often unable to exercise its strength. This comes from the fact that many people in the majority are separated from each other in one detail or more, and this shows up in disagreements, sometimes minor, but also sometimes major. George Will, articulate though he is, intelligent though he is, simply has forgotten to consider the essentials of what makes a Conservative.
There are any number of labels which are plastered on Liberals and Conservatives, and to the degree that we are all of us individuals, these labels are false. However, for all of that there are also basic truths which establish identities, even for groups, even as large as nations. I will leave Liberals to define their own purposes, though I have my ideas about them, some good, some bad. For Conserrvatives, however, in the matter of Law the essential is very like the Oath of Hippocrates: “First, Do No Harm…”. The basics of American Law come from our own Declaration of Independence, which includes the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. It is a common interpretation in American Law, that the Constitution which sets out the limits and roles of Government follows that template, and especially in the order set out so plainly:
3. Pursuit of Happiness
It means that killing someone should only be done when absolutely necessary, not simply because it can be done, or when someone finds it expedient. The whole Bill of Rights is premised on the notion of assumed innocence, and restricts action by any authority which would confine the innocent, to say nothing of taking life of an innocent person against their will. If Will thinks Due Process is sufficient, then he has forgotten the lessons of Dred Scott, or Jim Crow, and many other laws which were legal in their time, but rejected when they were finally considered against the Constitution.
When the motions are considered so closely that the moral and essence are ignored, then the people in power become not the engines of solution and progress, but the moral enemies of Justice.
In this matter, George Will has chosen to be part of the problem.