Thursday, March 24, 2005

Whose family is next on the congressional docket?

An OpEd piece in my school newspaper praised Congress for passing the national version of "Terri's Law," saying that it showed how important the individual is amidst all our talk of programs and initiatives. I wrote this in response--

On Wednesday, Jon Cox wrote that "the most powerful political body in the world took a weekend to pass a bill just for [Terri Schiavo];" that he was "enthralled" by congress' focus on an individual, and that this sort of action shows just how much we care. Mr. Cox is wrong. In the U.S. alone, there are between 15,000 and 35,000 persons being sustained who have been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. Why were none of these mentioned in this national version of "Terri's Law?" Where is our concern for them?

There is no overpowering concern in this nation for Terri Schiavo. Terri's guardian, Michael, and her Parents, the Schindlers, are standing in front of a studio audience made up of the entire nation--we watch them call names; we are horrified at allegations of abuse; we blame the judicial system for abandoning Terri; we use bullhorns, pickets, and protests (look at the pictures) to speak out. Where is Jerry Springer when we need him? We are not concerned with Terri's life or death—We are enthralled by a family fight, the likes of which most of us can only imagine. After all, what is more alluring than another family's dirty laundry? Our concern is just another ugly fascination with celebrity.

Hundreds of people every day have to make this decision for a loved one—a decision between death and a life of mechanical breath and liquid food. Congress has made no law for them. The nation knows none of their names. And yet, just for Terri, we watch, we answer opinion polls, we protest, we cry. Where are our tears for the hundreds of tragedies that occur every day? Where is our pain for the dozens in our own communities who face the same circumstance?

What if this were your family or mine? Your Sister? My Mother? How many of us know the agony of that decision? It can only be worse to endure second guessing by an entire nation and its government. None of us beside her family and friends will truly mourn Terri. Of course we will be sad. Of course we will send flowers and TV cameras. But when she dies, which of us will remember how she was before her heart stopped? Which of us will cry to once more feel her touch or see her smile? Life will go on for each of us as it did the day before, absent no one.

I am not here to voice support for Michael Schiavo or the Schindlers'. I am here, however, to defend our system of law. The original court in this case determined in the year 2000 that it would be Terri's wish to have the feeding tube removed. The original court determined, on the basis of credible and distinguished expert testimony, that Terri is "awake but unaware", locked in a persistent vegetative state. Terri's parents appealed the rulings. For five years, court after court has found the original judge's decision to have merit. Indeed, the courts noted that "few, if any, similar cases have ever been afforded this heightened level of process." As congress intervened, they threw centuries of judicial practice out the window. Whose family will be next on the congressional docket?

Terri Schiavo has become the "Terri Schiavo case" and "Terri's Law". Terri Schiavo has become a symbol—a pawn—in a very political fight. Representatives who rightly recognized that Congress had no place in that hospice room will be vilified at their next election as the ones who voted to kill Terri. I am ashamed of our legislators and our president. We should all be ashamed of the circus we have made of a difficult situation. Terri Schiavo is a woman, a daughter, a wife, a patient, a friend. She should never have to be a sound bite in the next election.

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