The Terri Schiavo Case: Congress Should Not Have Say in Life or Death
By the day it seems our nation becomes ever more starkly divided over perceived issues of morality and values. The latest skirmish in this culture war is the case of Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old comatose Florida woman whose parents are fighting to keep her alive through artificial means ‘— against the wishes of her husband, who says his wife would not want to live in a vegetative state.
The matter has so gripped the nation that Congress rushed a bill to President Bush’s desk for his hasty signature in the middle of the night to force a federal judge to review the case ‘— this after a state judge ruled that Schiavo should be allowed to die. Throngs of demonstrators, many of whom identify with the anti-abortion movement, have prayed outside Schiavo’s hospice, and some have been arrested trying to symbolically smuggle in bread and water.
By the time this editorial goes to print, the matter will have likely been settled by the courts’ reluctance to intervene and Schiavo’s possible death from starvation.
Wrenching as this issue is, we on the YES! Weekly editorial board believe Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die. We don’t know if this poor woman is cognizant or not; if so we recognize that dying by starvation ‘— as opposed to the morally troubling option of physician-assisted suicide ‘— must be incredibly painful.
Yet, on balance, ethical and moral considerations cause us to favor the state getting out of the way and allowing Schiavo to die with dignity. The staff at YES! Weekly tends to oppose the death penalty because we do not believe the state should sanction the taking of human life; we are divided on the issue of abortion because we individually weigh the value of an unborn human life and the value of women’s reproductive freedom at different levels.
This case is unlike either the application of the death penalty or abortion, which both involve interventions to end a human life. In Terry Schiavo’s case, the hospice was carrying out an intervention to artificially extend a human life, at her parents’ behest. We note that 50 years ago there would be no Terry Schiavo controversy because the medical technology did not exist to keep such a person alive. Likewise, we think Bill Maher has a good point ‘— that no one in good health asks their loved ones to keep them hooked up to feeding tubes and maintain them in a vegetative state in the eventuality that they become severely debilitated.
Ultimately, just as we don’t believe extraordinary measures should be taken to end human life neither do we believe extraordinary measures should be taken to extend it.
We recognize that thoughtful people must follow their conscience on this issue, but believe it’s important to recognize that the state courts have already spoken. Why the executive and legislative branches of the US government should obsess over the fate of one woman while thousands continue to be slaughtered in Darfur, a brutal war drags on in Iraq and millions of Americans face increased economic insecurity at home, we can’t quite fathom.