Remembering A Key Victory For The Culture Of Death
It was ten years ago today that Terri Schiavo died.
I know conservatives remember her [some still pray for her and her family – of this I have no doubt], but so many others just want to forget she and her situation ever existed.
In a lengthy post Mark Steyn remembers revisits the story and offers some spot-on and shattering insights from then and now.
A few highlights:
I’m neither a Floridian nor a lawyer, and, for all I know, it may be legal under Florida law for the state to order her to be starved to death. But it is still wrong.
This is not a criminal, not a murderer, not a person whose life should be in the gift of the state. So I find it repulsive, and indeed decadent, to have her continued existence framed in terms of “plaintiffs” and “petitions” and “en banc review” and “de novo” and all the other legalese. Mrs Schiavo has been in her present condition for 15 years. Whoever she once was, this is who she is now – and, after a decade and a half, there is no compelling reason to kill her. Any legal system with a decent respect for the status quo – something too many American judges are increasingly disdainful of – would recognize that her present life, in all its limitations, is now a well-established fact, and it is the most grotesque judicial overreaching for any court at this late stage to decide enough is enough. It would be one thing had a doctor decided to reach for the morphine and “put her out of her misery” after a week in her diminished state; after 15 years, for the courts to treat her like a death-row killer who’s exhausted her appeals is simply vile.
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 child-like 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?
The here’s-your-shroud-and-what’s-your-hurry crowd say, ah, yes, but you uptight conservatives are always boring on about the sanctity of marriage, and this is what her husband wants, and he’s legally the next of kin. Michael Schiavo is living in a common-law relationship with another woman, by whom he has fathered children. I make no judgment on that. Who of us can say how we would react in his circumstances? Maybe I’d pull my hat down over my face and slink off to the cathouse on the other side of town once a week. Maybe I’d embark on a discreet companionship with a lonely widow. But if I take on a new wife (in all but name) and make a new family I would think it not unreasonable to forfeit any right of life or death over my previous wife.
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.
Do you remember a fellow called Robert Wendland? No reason why you should. I wrote about him in this space in 1998, and had intended to return to the subject but something else always intervened — usually Bill Clinton’s penis, which loomed large, at least metaphorically, over the entire era. Mr Wendland lived in Stockton, California. He was injured in an automobile accident in 1993 and went into a coma. Under state law, he could have been starved to death at any time had his wife requested the removal of his feeding tube. But Rose Wendland was busy with this and that, as one is, and assumed there was no particular urgency.
Then one day, a year later, Robert woke up. He wasn’t exactly his old self, but he could catch and throw a ball and wheel his chair up and down the hospital corridors, and both activities gave him pleasure. Nevertheless Mrs Wendland decided that she now wished to exercise her right to have him dehydrated to death. Her justification was that, while the actual living Robert — the Robert of the mid-1990s — might enjoy a simple life of ball-catching and chair-rolling, the old Robert — the pre-1993 Robert — would have considered it a crashing bore and would have wanted no part of it.
She nearly got her way. But someone at the hospital tipped off Mr Wendland’s mother and set off a protracted legal struggle in which — despite all the obstacles the California system could throw in her path — the elderly Florence Wendland was eventually successful in preventing her son being put down. He has since died of pneumonia, which is sad: the disabled often fall victim to some opportunist illness they’d have shrugged off in earlier times, as Christopher Reeve did. But that’s still a better fate than to be starved to death by order of the state.
Many people seem to be unusually anxious to pretend that this judicial murder is merely a very belated equivalent of a discreet doctor putting a hopeless case out of her misery, or to take refuge in the idea that some magisterial disinterested ‘due process’ is being played out — or as a reader wrote to me the other day: ‘Why are you fundamentalists so clueless? It’s the law, dickbrain. Michael Schiavo isn’t acting for himself; he’s been legally recognised as the person qualified to act for Terri in expressing her wishes based on her own oral declarations.’
Which sounds fine and dandy, until you uncover your ears and a lot of the genteel euphemisms and legalisms and medicalisms — ‘right to die’, ‘guardian ad litem’, ‘PVS’ — start to sound downright Orwellian. PVS means ‘persistent vegetative state’, and because it’s a grand official-sounding term it’s been accepted mostly without question by the mainstream media, even though the probate judge declared Mrs Schiavo in a persistent vegetative state without troubling to visit her and without requiring any of the routine tests, such as an MRI scan. Indeed, her husband hasn’t permitted her to be tested for anything since 1993. Think about that: this woman is being put to death without any serious medical evaluation more recent than 12 years ago.
La-la-la, we don’t want to hear how the vegetable’s made….
One consequence of abortion is that, in designating new life as a matter of ‘choice’, it created a culture where it’s now routine to make judgments about which lives are worth it and which aren’t. Down’s Syndrome? Abort. Cleft palate? Abort. Chinese girl? Abort. It’s foolish to think you can raise entire populations — not to mention generations of doctors — to make self-interested judgments about who lives and who doesn’t and expect them to remain confined to three trimesters. The ‘right to choose’ is now being extended beyond the womb: the step from convenience euthanasia to compulsory euthanasia is a short one. Until a year or two back, I spent a lot of my summer Saturdays manning the historical society booth at the flea markets on the town common, and I passed many a pleasant quarter-hour or so chit-chatting with elderly ladies leading some now middle-aged simpleton child around. Both parties seemed to enjoy the occasion. The child is no doubt a ‘burden’: he was born because he just was; there was no ‘choice’ about it in those days. Having done away with those kinds of ‘burdens’ at birth, we’re less inclined to tolerate them when they strike in adulthood, as they did in Terri Schiavo’s case.
In that sense, the Schiavo debate provides a glimpse of the Western world the day after tomorrow….
I’m surprised the Left, the main proponents of The Culture Of Death, are not celebrating their horrific, hideous, disgusting, cruel, and obscene victory. They got what they wanted: the death of someone who was a ‘drain on Society’ and an impediment to a man who wanted to get on with his Narcissistic Life.
Father Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life, was there when Mrs Schivao died. His account, published in The Washington Times, is worth quoting in full [tip of the fedora to Bryan Kemper via Life Site News]:
I spent the night of March 30, 2005, in a Florida hospice. I was at the bedside of Terri Schiavo during the last 14 hours of her earthly life, right up until five minutes before her death. During that time with Terri, joined by her brother and sister, I told Terri over and over that she had many friends around the country, many people who were praying for her and were on her side. I told her the same thing during my visits to her in the months before her feeding tube was removed. I am convinced she understood.
I’ve known Terri’s family since 1999. They put my name on the short, court-approved list of people who could walk past the police officers stationed outside to visit Terri’s room. Why a court-approved visitor’s list? Because euthanasia advocates didn’t want anyone contradicting their narrative that Terri was an unresponsive person in some kind of vegetative state. The only way to prove she was responsive was to see her for yourself.
I went to see her in September 2004 and again in February 2005. When her mom first introduced her to me, she stared at me intently. She focused her eyes. She would focus her eyes on whoever was talking to her. If somebody spoke to her from another part of the room, she would turn her head and her eyes toward the person speaking.
I told Terri she had many people around the country and around the world who loved her and were praying for her. She looked at me attentively. I said, “Terri now we are going to pray together, I want to give you a blessing, let’s say some prayers.” So I laid my hand on her head. She closed her eyes. I said the prayer. She opened her eyes again at the end of the prayer. Her dad, who had a mustache, leaned over to kiss her and said, “OK Terri, now here comes the tickle.” She smiled and laughed and after he kissed her I saw her return the kiss. Her mom asked her a question at a certain point and I heard her voice. She was trying to respond. She was making sounds in response to her mother’s question, not just at odd times and meaningless moments. I heard her trying to say something, but she was not able to articulate the words owing to her disability. She was certainly responsive.
The night before she died, I was in her room for a total of three to four hours, and then for another hour the next morning — her final hour. To describe the way she looked as “peaceful” is a total distortion of what I saw. She was a person who for 13 days had no food or water. She was, as you would expect, very drawn in her appearance as opposed to when I had seen her before. Her eyes were open but they were moving from one side to the next, constantly darting back and forth. I watched her for hours, and the best way I can describe the look on her face is “terrified sadness.”
Her mouth appeared to be frozen open. She was panting rapidly. It wasn’t peaceful in any sense of the word. Her brother Bobby was sitting on one side of the bed, and I was on the other facing him. Her sister Suzanne was on my left. We had a very intense time of prayer, urging Terri to entrust herself completely to Jesus. I assured her of the love and prayers and concern of so many people.
Who else was in the room with me, Bobby, Suzanne and Terri? Police officers — the whole time. There was always at least one, sometimes two, three, or more — armed police officers in the room. Why were they in the room? They wanted to make sure that we didn’t do anything that we weren’t supposed to do, like give her communion or maybe a glass of water.
There was a little night table in the room. I could put my hand on the table and on Terri’s head all within arm’s reach. On that table was a vase of flowers filled with water. I said to myself, this is absurd, totally absurd. These flowers are being treated better than this woman. She has not had a drop of water for almost two weeks. Had I dipped my hand in that water and put it on her tongue, the officer would have led me out, probably under arrest.
Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, and his team were angry with me. They had hoped that they could present Terri’s death as a merciful and gentle act. My words took the veil of euphemism away, calling this a killing and giving eyewitness testimony to the fact that it was anything but gentle.
Another aspect of the Terri Schiavo tragedy is that many people misunderstand its cause and, therefore, its solution. They think the problem was that Terri did not leave any written instructions about whether she wanted to be kept alive. In order to avoid any such problem in their own lives, they are now told that they have to draw up a “living will.” This is both erroneous and dangerous.
Terri’s case is not about the withdrawal of life-saving medical treatment, but rather about the killing of a healthy person whose life some regarded as worthless. Terri was not dying, was not on life support, and did not have any terminal illness. Because some thought she would not want to live with her disability, they insisted on introducing the cause of death, namely, dehydration.
The danger in our culture is not that we will be overtreated, but rather that we will be undertreated. We already have the right to refuse medical treatment. However, we run the risk of losing the right to receive the most basic humane care — like food and water — in the event we have a disability and become inconvenient.
American Society turned a corner down a dark alley when the Court sentenced Terri Schiavo to death. Since then it has been slowly walking further into the depths of a fetid and foul dead end, with each step draining more and more of the Morality out of it’s collective Soul.
In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of “conspiracy against life” is unleashed….
—Pope Saint John Paul The Great, Evangelium Vitae