Only Parents Care

Of all the people who are yakking, demonstrating, legislating and speechifying about Terri Schiavo, the only two human beings on this planet who probably really care about her as a human being are her parents. To all the rest, she is just a pawn in their political and ideological games.

The media, especially the TV types, and the politicians have shamelessly exploited what should be a private tragedy. The matter had been litigated during the past several years in the state courts, and the result was always the same: Recovery is hopeless. Then Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stuck his nose into it, got the Legislature to pass a special act, and the matter had to be litigated all over again. Again, the results were the same: Recovery is hopeless.

Then, for the most cynical of reasons, the Republicans in Congress passed yet another special act and, with great fanfare, sent the matter to the federal courts. The federal judge ruled that there were no grounds for a federal appeal. That was appealed, but an appellate court and the Supreme Court rejected it.

Technically, the U.S. district judge denied a request for an emergency order to reinsert the feeding tube, but he did so on the grounds that their claims of her constitutional rights being violated were unlikely to be provable. If the church failed to administer last rites, that’s its fault. This is, I believe, the third time her feeding tube has been removed.

It might help you to understand if you remember that lower courts take sworn testimony and establish the facts; appellate courts rule only on the law and procedures. The Florida governor, the Legislature, the U.S. Congress and the president acted without any facts whatsoever. No hearings were held; no one read the transcripts; no one consulted the doctors. There was no need for facts, because the purpose both in the Florida Legislature and in Congress was not to do anything substantive, but simply to win a political Brownie point with the religious right-to-life constituency.

"We tried," they will say, knowing darn well that what they did would have no effect on the outcome at all. When are the right-to-life folks going to wake up and realize that they are being conned by the Republican Party? If the party and its dishonest members really were pro-life, they would push hard for a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Will they do it? Of course not. That would be taking a stand on principle, and politicians today do not take stands — they make gestures and speeches. President George Bush would rather conjure up foreign boogeymen and campaign against a problem (Social Security insolvency) that is 50 years away than face the real problems in this country.

Just look at all the attention, energy and money spent arguing about a woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, while the murder of a little girl and yet another school shooting show that we have more immediate social problems to concern ourselves about.

Like it or not, tradition is that these decisions about terminating life support are properly handled in the state courts. Like him or not, her husband, in consultation with doctors, has the right to say, "Pull the plug." It’s entirely understandable that her parents want to cling to hope, but if you are going to have the rule of law, you have to recognize the primacy of the spouse’s role in these matters. In Texas, there is a law that states that explicitly, and it was signed by none other than George W. Bush.

It’s a shame that everything in this country gets politicized, litigated and chewed to pieces by the media. That’s in part the fault of the 24-hour so-called cable news channels, which, lacking any real reporting staff, need something to knock the enamel off their teeth about.

For all practical purposes, Terri Schiavo has been dead for more than a decade. It’s been dishonest on the part of television to keep showing the same tape of her, which is several years old. Let the poor woman die in peace. Cut the lawyers off their sugar teat. Tell the politicians to do their real job and stop grandstanding for political purposes.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.