March 17, 2005

Death With Dignity

The U.S. Congress this evening made a frantic, last-ditch effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive, passing measures that call for the federal courts to prevent the removal of feeding tubes from the brain-damaged woman in Florida. President George W. Bush applauded the move, saying the courts should rule "in favor of life.''

Well, let's look at the real facts. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a rabid anti-abortion advocate, introduced a bill (S.539) dubbed the "Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act of 2005." Supposedly under the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which provides that`No State . . . shall deprive any person of life . . . without due process of law," the bill would deem any person (husband, wife, doctor, etc.) who is "authorized or directed by court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment" to be holding an incapacitated person in "custody" for purposes of federal court habeas corpus proceedings. In layman's terms, this means that the constitutional protection against government custodial confinement -- which is used to challenge state criminal convictions as unconstitutional -- would now be extended to anyone who obtains a state court order allowing a loved one to die. Private citizens, not the state, are now being commanded to give up their personal autonomy by the fiction that their spouses (legal guardian in all other situations) become the government because a court ratifies one's right to die.

Santorum's bill reasons that:

In circumstances in which there is a contested judicial proceeding because of a dispute about the expressed previous wishes or best interests of a person presently incapable of making known a choice concerning treatment, food, and fluids the denial of which will result in death, [the Congress must] guarantee that the fundamental due process and equal protection rights of incapacitated persons are protected by ensuring the availability of collateral review through habeas corpus proceedings.

Bullshit. In Terry Schiavo's case, where that poor woman has been in a persistent coma, without consciousness, for 15 years, the bill would take away from those who know her best the power to let her die and allow any third-party -- not limited to her parents, but anyone -- to use the courts to contest her right to die. This is not about due process, it's about manufacturing a federal "right" out of thin air, just like Santorum piously claims the Supreme Court did in Roe v. Wade on abortion. The hypocrisy is simply astonishing. As Schiavo's husband said on Nightline, will the government now force cancer patients to take chemo against their wishes? The policy and legal logic is the same, but the result is the Big Brother government that Republicans traditionally despise. Now they're all for it, wanting to overturn 19 Florida court decisions, all of which confirmed that Terry Schiavo is brain dead, can never have any senses again, and should be allowed to be removed from artificial life support.

Bill Clinton famously declared that "the era of big government is over" in 1995. Not true. Now that the Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, after lambasting Clinton, they're moving government ever more deeply into state, local and intensely personal affairs. Santorum, Dubya and the congressional Repubicans are the George Orwells of 2005, only 21 years after "1984."

Update: When the House could not pass a bill acceptable to the Senate last night, it came up with a new strategy. To subpoena Terry Schiavo's husband to testify before Congress in Washington, D.C. so that he would have to leave Florida when the order allowing disconnection of life support goes into effect this afternoon. Shameful.

 Posted by glenn


The problem here is a law saying that a person who requires artificial means to be fed - which is the case with many disabled people - can be denied being fed based on hearsay evidence some twenty years ago under dubious circumstances. This is too serious of an action to allow death based on such little evidence. Unfortunately that is the law right now - as unjust as that is. Obviously the law needs to be changed here so more substantial evidence of a personís wishes is established before the person is allowed to die.

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Posted by: Terry Finley at April 5, 2005 09:24 AM