Mark Steyn On Terri Schiavo

The inimitable Mark Steyn on Terri Schiavo:

“There seems to be a genuine dispute about her condition — between those on her husband’s side, who say she has ”no consciousness,” and those on her parents’ side, who say she is capable of basic, childlike reactions. If the latter are correct, ending her life is an act of murder. If the former are correct, what difference does it make? If she feels nothing — if there’s no there there — she has no misery to be put out of. That being so, why not err in favor of the non-irreversible option?

…Michael Schiavo took a vow to be faithful in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do them part. He’s forsaken his wife and been unfaithful to her: She is, de facto, his ex-wife, yet, de jure, he appears to have the right to order her execution. This is preposterous. Suppose his current common-law partner were to fall victim to a disabling accident. Would he also be able to have her terminated? Can he exercise his spousal rights polygamously? The legal deference to Mr. Schiavo’s position, to his rights overriding her parents’, is at odds with reality.

As for the worthlessness of Terri Schiavo’s existence, some years back I was discussing the death of a distinguished songwriter with one of his old colleagues. My then girlfriend, in her mid-20s, was getting twitchy to head for dinner and said airily, ”Oh, well, he had a good life. He was 87.” ”That’s easy for you to say,” said his old pal. ”I’m 86.” To say nobody would want to live in an iron lung or a wheelchair or a neck brace or with third-degree burns over 80 percent of your body is likewise easy for you to say.

…But that’s easy for us to say. We can’t know which camp we’d fall into until it happens to us. And it behooves us to maintain a certain modesty about presuming to speak for others — even those we know well. Example: ”Driving down there, I remember distinctly thinking that Chris would rather not live than be in this condition.” That’s Barbara Johnson recalling the 1995 accident of her son Christopher Reeve. Her instinct was to pull the plug; his was to live.

As to arguments about ”Congressional overreaching” and ”states’ rights,” which is more likely? That Congress will use this precedent to pass bills keeping you — yes, you, Joe Schmoe of 37 Elm Street — alive till your 118th birthday. Or that the various third parties who intrude between patient and doctor in the American system — next of kin, HMOs, insurers — will see the Schiavo case as an important benchmark in what’s already a drift toward a culture of convenience euthanasia. Here’s a thought: Where do you go to get a living-will kit saying that in the event of a hideous accident I don’t want to be put to death by a Florida judge or the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals? And, if you had such a living will, would any U.S. court recognize it?”

*** Update #1 ***: There was one other throwaway line from the column that I thought was worth repeating:

“…for the courts to treat (Terri) like a Death Row killer who’s exhausted her appeals is simply vile.”

Quite frankly, I think that’s being too kind. To say that Terri has been treated like a “Death Row Killer” implies that she’s at least being looked at as a human being. The thing that really bugs me is the number of commentators who are talking about her as if she’s an object, like a coffee table. You know the type of arguments I’m talking about:

“Well, you know, maybe the judge is right, maybe he’s wrong, but he made a ruling and that’s the important thing.”

We’re talking about a human being here, a woman, who is going to be starved to death because armed agents of the government are going to stand there with guns and arrest anyone who tries to give her sustenance. This is in essence a death sentence that’s being enforced against a woman who is accused of no crime.

Yet, we’re being told that the important thing here isn’t necessarily who’s right and wrong, it’s the process. Maybe as a society, we can live with that if we’re talking about a coffee table, but when an innocent human life is on the line, that’s just not good enough.

That’s what the cacophonous din over the last week has been about and the injustice of what’s happened will have repercussions long after Terri Schiavo passes on, hopefully to a better place than this one….

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