Overkilling Schiavo

By: Rachel Marsden

TV psychic guy, John Edward, said on ABC’s “The View” the other day that Terri Schiavo “knows about everything that’s going on around her.” I’m venturing to guess that her next line was probably, “And you’re all total fricking idiots!”

The private dispute between members of the Schiavo family over the life of their severely brain-damaged daughter/wife, Terri, should never have become the media circus that it did. Someone should have hired Michael Schiavo’s anti-food tube lawyer to shut down all the greasy spoons within a 20 mile radius that were fuelling the reflex-driven, brain-dead reporters covering the case.

No one comes out of this looking good. Not President Bush, not the Democrats or the Republicans, not Schiavo’s family, and certainly not the hyperventilating media hacks whose own plugs I’d really like to pull.

First, so I’m not accused of bench warming, here’s my personal position: I believe that something is seriously wrong when John Edward--a guy who makes a living ‘communicating’ with the dead--has to come on TV and fill us in on what’s really up with Terri Schiavo. Put it this way: If Mr. “I See Dead People” is the only one who can really be seen to speak for me with any authority, then I think it’s safe to say that I’m gone. Neither science nor theology dictates that--common sense does.

In a few weeks, we’re going to look back and realize that far too many people lost their minds when they morphed into piranhas for the Schiavo feeding frenzy. Irreparable damage would have occurred, had some of these amped-up fools succeeded in their efforts.

Schiavo came dangerously close to being the Republican Party’s Elian Gonzales. I’m talking about the little refugee boy who President Bill Clinton ordered ripped from his Miami-based relatives and given to his Cuban father in defiance of the courts. Some conservative pundits have applied a “they did it, so why the heck shouldn’t we?” argument to the Schiavo situation. Just because the Democrats made themselves into fools over the Gonzales case, it doesn’t mean that Republicans have earned a “free cock-up” pass.

Schiavo’s case dragged on for years, and in nearly every instance, the court sided with the husband’s wish to remove the feeding tube based on evidence that it’s what his wife would have wanted. If Schiavo’s parents had proof to the contrary, or any significant evidence that the CAT scans and electroencephalographic tests indicating brain-death were wrong, then they should have pulled out all the stops to present it at trial--not after the fact, in the court of public opinion. Instead, they’ve recently been out promoting “Terri’s Greatest Video Hits” collection from years ago. It’s as if Terri and Madonna have the same agent.

Court cases can’t be retried simply on the basis that one party failed to do its homework at the original trial and didn’t like the outcome as a result. I don’t care if John Edward would have claimed to be getting psychic pizza requests from Terri after the feeding tube had been yanked. There was no ‘new’ evidence here.

Immense lobbying and media pressure had been applied to GOP-appointed judges to reverse the decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube late in the game. Caving would have turned these judges into activists and ideologues themselves, and it would have cost President Bush every single one of his upcoming judicial nominees.

No strict constructionist judge would have overturned the decision to remove the feeding tube in this case. Such a move would have been far more damaging to the integrity of the courts in the long run. For once, the courts behaved as they ought to have, and instead of being congratulated, they’re catching holy hell for it from people with a political axe to grind.

None of this can be chalked up to a leftist conspiracy. The original Florida state judge (George Greer) who approved Michael Schiavo’s request to have the feeding tube removed is a Republican Jeb Bush appointee and a Southern Baptist. One of the dissenting judges (Ed Carnes) on the three-member panel of the 11th Circuit Appeals Court that denied the reinsertion of the tube was a Bush Sr. appointee.

In rejecting Terri’s parents’ final appeal to the 11th Circuit, Judge Stanley Birch -- yet another Bush Sr. appointee -- wrote that “any further action by our court or the district court would be improper. While the members of her family and the members of Congress have acted in a way that is both fervent and sincere, the time has come for dispassionate discharge of duty.” He added the politicians who became involved in the case “have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people--our Constitution.”

Conservatives rightfully blow a gasket when liberal judges use the bench to push through their agendas related to issues like gay marriage. If Republican judges would have bent over for the right-to-life movement in this case, then the fear of overturning Roe v. Wade would have constituted the Democrats’ next fright campaign. And it would have been devastating--mainly because Schiavo would have finally given it the traction that Democrats have been looking for.

President Bush did what he had to do. He made a show of leadership by taking a position on the issue, even though his statement in favor of erring on the side of life illustrated the trouble with subscribing to the full meal deal for any given ideology.

As Governor of Texas, Bush repeatedly lit up Death Row inmates like Christmas trees hooked up to a “Clapper”. Back then, he wasn’t a fan of “erring on the side of life.”

According to Rob Warden -- President of the Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions -- “roughly a third of all capital cases are overturned. Most of those are reversed and remanded for retrial.  But since 1972…more than 120 have been freed. There are 119 who have been exonerated--meaning that they were returned to the status of legally innocent.”

If only Bush would have given the lives of these people the same value and respect as he did Terri’s. But given that Bush’s base consists largely of pro-death penalty right-to-lifers, it’s silence -- not hypocrisy -- that would have alienated this crowd.

The legislative and executive branches of government can’t overturn court decisions that they don’t like any more so than Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg can tell the President which country to invade. As so many polls related to the Schiavo case have shown, there is little public support for politicians sticking their noses into private court matters. The Schiavo case isn’t a matter of reweaving the fabric of society--unlike the case of activist liberal judges foisting the gay marriage agenda on society when there’s little appetite for it. It’s a private family fight that became the rollercoaster ride everyone wanted to hop aboard for the sake of a cheap thrill.

In getting caught up in the horserace of husband vs. parents, courts vs. politicians, and conservatives vs. liberals, the media has virtually ignored the larger, more important issue that when Terri Schiavo was fully-conscious and functional, she had chosen starvation. She battled an eating disorder and struggled constantly with her weight. According to a Newsweek report, she shed more than 100 pounds, developed bulimia, and ultimately ended up brain-damaged as a result of a heart-attack brought on by a starvation-induced electrolyte imbalance. She and her husband were given a million dollar malpractice award as the result of a doctor not having detected and treated her disease.

I’ll bet that when Terri Schiavo, like many other young women, looked at pictures in magazines of glamorous young starlets with their collarbones sticking out, acting as bone racks for some Versace or Dolce and Gabbana creation, she had a tough time picturing the uglier side of her disordered eating. She ended up living it.

Terri Schiavo lying in a hospital bed should have taken Paris Hilton’s place on teen magazine covers as the new poster girl for the realities of ‘anorexic chic’, under the heading, “That’s hot?!” The media blew an opportunity to prevent other women from suffering the same fate as Terri.

And finally, the press should be appalled at how it has portrayed Terri's husband. He has been assigned the requisite red horns, tail and pitchfork in this particular movie, with little or no proof to back up the nasty claims made against him. Granted we know that he took up with another woman after giving up hope on his brain-dead wife ever recovering, seven years after her accident. So what? There are guys out there who would screw around on their wife if she chipped a nail, let alone turned turnip.  This may make him a candidate for "Schmuck of the Year", but hardly a ‘murderer’.

We also know that he became a nurse to better care for his wife, and that he turned down multi-million dollar offers to walk away and abandon her.

Conservatives can’t have it both ways: Either they value the institution of marriage, or they don’t. On her wedding day, Terri Schiavo’s father walked her down the aisle and gave her away to Michael Schiavo. That’s supposed to actually mean something. And as her husband, he honored his vow to be by her side until the end.

There are no villains here, just a lot of shortsighted idiots who, thankfully, never got their way. Now may this whole fiasco just finally rest in peace.