Sunday, March 27, 2005

Topic of the Week - Questions Raised in the Terri Schiavo Case

As much as I personally resist in prolonging the story on the Terri Schiavo case based on the extensive media coverage, it is an issue that has certainly reinforced the polarization in this country between The Christian Right & Conservative Politicians vs. other Christians, other religious beliefs, Seculars and Liberals. The definition of life is one of the most heated issues of the value system differences amongst the right, middle and left. From a personal and political perspective, the Terri Schiavo case raises many interesting questions:

- How does one define life and living in the Terri Schiavo case? How does one define life and living within the thousands of other people in a current vegetative state in America?

- How does a society define life and living? Is this a personal decision, a family decision, a state decision or a federal decision?

- Who is the guardian of a person in a vegetative state? Husband? Parents? Siblings?

- When, or does a parents right ever expire when it comes to their children?

- Should federal jurisdiction prevail over state jurisdiction?

- Does Congress have a right to circumvent the Judicial process in extraordinary circumstances?

- Does the Executive branch of our government have the authority to circumvent our Legislative and Judicial branches of our government in extraordinary circumstances?

- Is there a limit to the appeal process?

- How does an individual and/or a society define protection of life or what is considered the right to life, with respect to a fetus, a vegetative state and an individual found guilty of first-degree murder? Is there an absolute line drawn between these three examples?

Your opinion? Post your comments below.


At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my vantage point I’m tired of hearing, seeing talking about anything to do w/the Schiavo case. I’m not being cynical nor callous, but enough is enough. I’m no longer (well hardly ever) watching it on TV nor reading it in the newspapers. I (almost) refuse too.

The bottom line is it/was Teri and her husbands own fault that this entire fiasco has gone on, including her extending the vegetative life (if you want to refer it to life) that Teri is in. Why, how about a living will, ever hear of it. How stupid can one be! You know I had a living will (w/my mom and dad’s encouragement) as soon as I got married over 30 years ago. Not sure if it was called a living will back then, but it did suit the same purpose.

Look at the number of families that go through this daily…and never in the press…do you never hear about them. Of course not. They prepared for this. It actually happened to my mom and my father-in-law. I do believe the husband has every right to let her go considering all the medical circumstance. This is NOT a religious, not legal issue (as far as I’m concerned). Yesterday two different doctors stated that she is brain dead w/absolutely zero hope of brain to rejuvenate. They showed MRI’s of Teri’s brain and a normal brain. She’s toast.

All the movements she is seen doing are quite typical with cases such as this p/the doctors. In fact my mom had similar involuntary movements for the last few days of her life too.

The media gets a hold of this and turns it into an entertainment feeding-frenzy. Look I understand why Teri’s mom/dad don’t want her to die…but you know, if they were as Christian as they claim to be…then, why not let her go…she can be w/god and at peace (if one believes that).

And this religious, pro-life freaks carrying on in front of the hospital. What a scene. Don’t they have jobs they need to get to. I especially got a kick out of the sign that “Jews for Teri”…what is that all about?#!@(^$?

And the President…and Congress, where the hell does the President come off procrastinating his personal-religious beliefs (again) on this case. Just the same as the other idiot Bush, his father, when he said OJ was guilty before the trial even stared. Same gene pool.

And Congress getting involved w/all those turkey’s stepping up to the podium and expressing their profound religious beliefs…wonder why. Votes. The Fed’s should be out of all State matters. The Fed’s and States should but out of all personal religious matters. This administration once again has shown the way of the Extreme Right…they should all be mandated to wear uniforms…you know the one’s…black with those narrow white collars. And instead of Bush having his Sunday morning radio talk show, perhaps he should consider offering a Thursday evening national confessional.

I’m sick of being dedicated too by people who truly do not have my best interest at heart, but rather try to put upon me their own personal convictions. Thanks Georgie-boy. This is what is really going on here…The Extreme Right…and more game playing. Granted I’m/have generalizing all my comments here (kind of frustrated)…but again I’m sick of hearing, seeing and talking about it.

I hope for Teri sake (and her husbands) she passes away peacefully and soon. You know, I put my dog and cat down last year so that they (and the living) would not suffer (any longer), so why would one do this for a human being.

I do believe Dr. Kevorkian will some day (eons from now), be viewed as a very (nuts but) courageous person. He was a bit misguided, but on track to some degree. Wonder what he is thinking sitting in his 6’x4’ cell. Another demonstration of the Extreme Right and their religious zealous.

Why would you want to cut off ones feeding tube and allow a person to slowly die. I understand the med’s say she is not under any stress by not receiving any food or water…so if that is the case…why keep her alive. What is the purpose? …How inhumane is that. Considering her state (or lack thereof), just merely increase the Morphine dosage and she’ll pass away. There is no doubt in my mind, she would not want to be remembered as the media and her family have caused it to be.

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous commonwealth said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous GBender said...

Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist for the NY Times writes in this morning's edition in his column entitled "What's Going On?":

"...But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism.

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation..."

Does not the Religious Right see how their vile actions and speech incite hate? Does not the Religious Right understand they are not respecting our rule of law? Does not the Religous Right understand their definition of "life" is not necessarily the only right interpretation of life.

I am amazed at how this group, on a whole, is unable to have any personal reflection of themselves.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Commonwealth said...

First, I agree wholeheartedly with the first comment.

Secondly I think you posted a lot of good questions, Tom, that every American adult should be considering carefully--and rationally. What we have seen with the Shiavo case, though, has been anything but rational.

Why was the rule of law made paramount in our Constitution by its authors? Why was the law set above even the powers of the president? As men of the Enlightenment our founding fathers believed that the rational must keep control of the emotional side of our nature. If we decide rules coolly and calmly in advance, they believed, then we will have a rational framework when emotions leave us vulnerable to wrong actions. The life and death issues that have come to the forefront this week reinforce the importance of their critical stance.

Because of science we have greater control than ever over the random shortcomings of our existence. We can decide when and how many children we will have. We can save premature babies who just a few years ago would have died at birth. We can now repair many birth defects, but the detection in early pregnancy of other more devastating ones can now push us to consider the painful decision of ending a pregnancy. We have vitamins and better nutrition to make us healthier. And finally we have a slew of interventions to deal with the illnesses and body failures of old age. But with this control come a requirement of decision-making on our part. When we are caught up in a medical crisis we will be the least able to make a rational decision. If we have not thought out ahead of time what our wishes will be we must rely on whatever laws or rules have been written by others. If our wishes have not been made to parents, children, or spouses, we place a terrible decision-making burden on them. More and more we need thoughtful medical laws, but even more so, we need to understand that we have new responsibilities as individuals. We need to think rationally not emotionally. But the last few days have been an emotional firestorm around this issue.

Last week was a circus, vulgar and cynical. Playing on people’s deepest fears is cruel in the extreme. The courts, working with an existing body of law were at least able to act rationally and impartially as one court after another confirmed the original judicial opinion, but almost everyone was caught up in an emotional and irrational frenzy.

When Congressional Republicans called an emergency weekend session to pass the Shiavo Relief Act it was a piece of political theatre they hoped would translate into a big political win for them. Terri was just an emotional tool for them but their impetuous act has costing them dearly in credibility. When President Bush flew dramatically back to Washington to sign the bill it was not for Terri’s sake but for the “political capital” he is so fond of amassing and spending. Because he acted precipitously, caught up in the emotional whirlwind, his “capital” is turning into fool’s gold.

But the most frightening players in last week’s Passion Play were the religious conservatives who came to dramatically pray and protest for Terri. They did much more than protest. They called the judges “judicial terrorists.” They labeled Terri’s husband a “murderer.” They tried to circumnavigate and then take the law into their own hands vigilante-style. To verbally castigate our legal system because you do not agree with a decision a court has handed down is a protected right, but if you chose to override that decision, or worse, call for the murder of judges, you are shaking the very pillars of our democracy. This is what we were witnessing last week: the calling for the overthrow of our judicial system. Religious zealots almost had Governor Bush ready to kidnap Terri. He most likely would have done so had polls later in the week not showed that Americans were overwhelming opposed to all that was happening. Both Bushes retreated behind the law when they read those polls but had even a slight majority been tallied in their favor I have no doubt that they would have literally taken the law into their own hands in defiance of the courts.

Think about that for a minute. Congress, a governor, and the President all willing to pull down the rule of law for the religious beliefs of the radical Religious Right. This potential action from those who are supposedly appalled by the control of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Imans in Iran. Fortunately the polls came out showing that even Evangelical Christians were against the government interfering in this agonizing end-of-life case.

Which brings me back to the writers of the Constitution. Religion is about passion for a true believer. They believe they know the will of God. They will act as they believe God wants them to. If they are given access to political power they will override just about any rule if they believe they are doing God’s will. The Taliban was at first welcomed in Afghanistan as a stabilizing force. Soon they were enforcing their arbitrary rules of behavior and morality at gunpoint. Our founding fathers were well aware of the religious terrorism that wove its bloody way through their own history in Europe. They wanted to avoid it at all costs. That is why they wanted a clear separation of church and state.

In the last few years I have been watching an effort by the Religious Right to co-op government for their narrow religious agenda. I know they are truly against things like abortion and gay rights. They believe in their views with a passion and there in lies the problem. They know they are right which makes every other view wrong. They logically believe everyone should believe exactly as they so passionately do. But the very strength of America is that I am also allowed to believe the opposite with equal passion. As long as we both respect and keep within the law we can each be as passionate as we want to be, but if the Religious Right were to actually succeed in co-opting government power they would quickly condemn not only abortion and gay rights but me as well. Would I stand by? No, I would not. I would fight for my beliefs. And then America would soon become like every other nation in history that has been torn apart by religious strife.

This past week has shown us that our democracy is vulnerable to just such a future. If issues such as end-of-life decisions are ignited by religious passions instead of rational decision making, if are elected officials are swayed to act on behalf of one religious group over others, we will begin to unweave the fabric of our American democracy. I believe this week should be considered a warning. We need to take a giant step backwards. Calls to “Save Terri” should be replaced by calls to “Save our Democacy.”

We are strong as a country because we as citizens are willing to act within the law. When we kill judges—or their families as happened in Chicago, when we act as vigilantes as they were trying to do in Florida, when we rush a bill through Congress to please our religious base, we are giving into what, under the guise of good intentions, could instead be the release of a systemic poison.

We need to respect the law and we need to be responsible citizens too. This week has made our new responsibilities clear. We need to make legal our end-of-life wishes and do so rationally and privately with our families. If the rule of law is honored and respected, we can feel safe that our personal wishes will carried out.

We need new laws but not the kind of thoughtless “weekend specials” Congress just spewed out. If you do not in the future write your own wishes clearly and legally there needs to be some legal guidelines already in place. Stop for a moment and think about a relative who might end up being asked to make an end-of-life decision for you. Do you trust them? Could they handle it without being left with painful doubts and regrets? If you haven’t signed clear legal documents and we do not make new legal guidelines.


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