The Elixir That Would Have Saved Terri Schiavo
By Michael R. Hirsh
The post mortem on the court ordered dehydrated body of Terri Schiavo is complete. Her fight to live continued for a decade and a half. What her horrific death hails for us continues to unfold.
Sadly, her killing could have easily been avoided. All that was needed was for those in a position to do so to courageously exercise their legitimate authority. But alas, rather than sip the elixir of courage, they drank deeply from the cup of cowardice.
For example, Governor Jeb Bush consistently beat his breast over Terri’s plight. And just as consistently he refused to take meaningful steps to actually save her life. Proving that a lack of candor is the twin sister to a lack of backbone, the Governor publicly stated that he had been advised that he lacked the constitutional authority to act.
That, in fact, is not true.
Governor Bush had been provided with the legal advice on his right to act from a variety of sources on numerous occasions. Some of that legal advice came as early as October 2003. At about the same time I was asked by the Schindlers to help them save their daughter shortly after Terri’s source of food and water had been removed.
Numerous court petitions were predictably denied. Governor Bush and the legislature pushed through the constitutionally dubious “Terri’s Law.” This thwarted the killers for a time, but that statute was eventually struck down.
Rather than creating a sloppy law, they could have simply amended the state’s guardianship law, which they were advised to do. It was an easy out and a no-brainer. The new law simply could have said: If you are fornicating, adulterating, and/or making babies with another person, you will not be allowed to make life and death decisions for your incapacitated spouse. If are cohabitating with another person and you stand to inherit a pile of money upon the death of your incapacitated spouse, you are disqualified as guardian. But this wasn’t done. There were other available legal avenues; they too were simply ignored.
Rather than do something significant, Governor Bush kept looking for loopholes. But Terri didn’t need “Terri’s law.” She needed a governor with fortitude.
And I know whereof I speak. When I questioned the Governor’s staff counsel as to why Governor Bush was reluctant to operate as an executive – and make an executive decision – I was chided for being oblivious to the political ramifications. I was not oblivious, only indifferent.
On Good Friday, 2005, Jeb Bush opted out of his customary church service. Had he attended, he would have participated – or at least heard – the prayer for the day from the 5th Station of the Cross, which states:
Lord Jesus, sometimes I don’t want to do what is right or to help someone in need, but you want me to respond positively to the needs of others in my life. Help me to say ‘yes’ and be willing to give heroic assistance to all who are in need.
Shifting denominations and focus for a moment to the Southern Baptist Judge who had Terri killed: Judge George Greer. His honor, whose otherwise iniquitous career will forever be defined by his misconduct in Schiavo, was privately advised by the pastor of his Baptist Church to withdraw his membership. This pastor was heralded as being courageous enough to have the jurist quietly resign from the roll.
Imagine the result had the reverend confronted Greer, the parishioner, with warnings of a public excommunication followed by a first class eternity in torment. Greer may not give a rat’s rear end about Terri’s soul, but he might have had some concern for his own. But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; and, in the land of the eunuchs, the fractionally endowed becomes an inept father of a multitude.
Equally emasculated is the United States Congress. There was a momentary flourish when a subpoena was issued for Terri as a material witness. Judge Greer immediately scoffed at the Order and ignored it. Greer rightly guessed that there wasn’t a thimble full of testosterone among them.
Not only did Congress back down, but both Vice President Cheney and Republican Senator Bill Frist declared that there should be no retribution for the defiance. Had a pro-lifer tendered a similar snub to Congress he would have seen a show of force that would have made Janet “Elian, go home” Reno proud.
Steadfast House Majority Leader Tom DeLay originally declared that “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” He later apologized for saying things in such “an inartful way.” Which is an artful way of saying he meant every word of it, just not the words of it. He did later artfully add, “We set up the courts. We can unset the courts.” President Bush distanced himself from DeLay, saying he believed in an independent judiciary. But he’s not quite so sure about that Kris Kringle guy.
To add insult to injury, a top aide to Republican Florida Senator Mel Martinez “resigned” after admitting authorship of a memo wherein he observed that the Schiavo fight “is a great political issue . . . and a tough issue for Democrats. This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.” Senator Martinez assured, “This type of behavior and sentiment will not be tolerated in my office.” Martinez didn’t clarify if it is getting the pro-life base excited or taking advantage of important moral issues that won’t be tolerated.
Imagine that politicians in political office hire political advisors who consider the political advantage on “an important moral issue.” Heretofore the rule has been to gain political benefit only on unimportant issues. Let the major league baseball steroid hearings begin!
If only Terri could have lived long enough to see her courageous Senator in action! She would have been glad to buy him a drink. At least the sanctity of Congress is secure, even if the sanctity of life is not.
This self immolation wasn’t enough for Democrats. The always artful former presidential candidate (and current Democrat National Committee Chairman) Howard “I Have a Scream” Dean promised that his fellow dems were going to make Schiavo a campaign issue next time around. Rarrrrrrrrr!!! Former vice-presidential candidate and Democrat poster boy, John Edwards, speaking even less artfully than Tom DeLay agreed: “We saw the memo . . . about how they could take political advantage of Terri Schiavo. That’s disgusting. They will pay a price for this in the 2006 and 2008 elections.”
Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank offered his support: “I really want to get behind Senator Edwards on this one.”
This John Edwards expressing his disgust with making political gains on a moral issue is the same pretender who promised us that the now deceased Superman star Christopher Reeves would walk again if John Kerry was elected president.
On the legal front, lawyers seemed concerned with making nice-nice with Michael Schiavo’s accomplice/attorney George Felos when they weren’t preoccupied about getting top billing on court filings. Enquiring minds like mine can’t help but wonder if the initial meeting might have set the stage for an improved result:
“Mr. Felos, I am Michael Hirsh, attorney for the Schindlers. While I am tempted to say ‘nice to meet you,’ it isn’t. You are an embarrassment to the legal profession and a blight on the entire judicial process. I fully intend to thoroughly thrash you and your diabolical agenda in court.”
Unfortunately, musings like these are as warmly received as exciting the pro-life base and seeking political advantage on important moral issues.
John Paul II – on his own deathbed – condemned the culture of death that is romancing America and compared Terri’s death to capital punishment for someone not so much as charged with a crime.
About the only bigwig on the scene demonstrating some grit was Jesse Jackson. The Reverend Jackson showed up at the Schindler’s request a few days before Terri breathed her last. He spoke with eloquence and passion against the unfolding evil. He even lobbied elected officials to take a stand against this horrific moral failure. His presence is a rebuke to the dozens of pro-life and pro-family leaders of the religious right who expressed their support for Terri in their fund-raising letters but who couldn’t find the time to get to the scene of the crime and try and save Terri’s life.
Terri’s fight is over. But the fight for life is going full throttle. Schiavo may prove to be the Roe v. Wade of euthanasia. Terri was denied the same legal protection given to occupants of Florida’s death row, though she was neither charged nor convicted of any crime. Her medical condition was deliberately miscast as “vegetative.”
Food and water were mischaracterized as artificial life support; and, Terri’s philandering husband’s blatant conflict of interest maliciously ignored.
Quality of life has replaced the sanctity of life. Improving one’s quality of life is fine. But measuring life’s worth by it and abandoning life’s sanctity only deepens the suffocating embrace of the culture of death.
The founding fathers had reason to recognize the sanctity of the right to life as the preeminent right to be protected by the new government. Without it, quality of life rights like liberty and the pursuit of happiness are empty, meaningless.
Simply having “conservatives” elected to office and appointed to the bench is likewise vapid. Republicans have done as much for people of faith as Democrats have for people of color. Each stays in the back of the bus while politicians condescendingly grin knowing that their voting block is secure. If politicians won’t be statesmen, then they need to be unemployed come next election. Hey! But why wait? Avoid the rush and impeach!
It is axiomatic that we get the government we deserve. Politicians avoid acting like statesmen because their constituency is satisfied with an occasional crumb while they marinate in their own personal peace and affluence. Politicians only see the light when they feel the heat.
Protecting innocent life is the first duty of statesmen, preachers, and citizens. Apathetic disregard violates that obligation and betrays our own cowardice.
As a little litigator growing up in the sixties, I often heard a then popular slogan that rhetorically asked: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” That query is the second to the last line from an old poem. Both lines read:
“What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Then the war will come to you.”
So many labor their whole lives to acquire positions of influence and power. It is so easily forgotten that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
We have suffered over thirty years of legal abortion, an onslaught of litigation and legislation trying to redefine marriage, debating euthanasia, and now forcing death – intentional killing by starvation and dehydration, the longest execution in the history of the republic. We have become a nation of sophisticated barbarians, what C.S. Lewis called “Admin.”
Will we –will you, will I – live courageously? This is not a rhetorical question. It is no hyperbole to say that our rights, our liberties, and perhaps our lives and the lives of our children hang in the balance. As the poet said, the war has come to you.
Michael Hirsh is a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Copyright 2005, Michael Hirsh.