An ABC News poll says that 70% of Americans feel that it was inappropriate for Congress to get involved in the Terri Schiavo case. So it was ill-advised of the Democrats (particularly in the Senate) to be so supportive of a law that the vast majority of people oppose.
Democrats aren’t going to get back in power by missing opportunities like they had in the weekend voting. The Schiavo bill is clearly unconstitutional, so the Dems could stand tall for the rule of law, state’s rights, due process, and all that legal stuff. The Schiavo bill also is clearly against “family values,” in that Michael Schiavo is Terri's husband and legal guardian, which makes him the best person to decide how his wife would have wanted to be treated—a position courts have consistently agreed with.
But, apparently fearing the wrath of the Christian Right minority (as I’ve written about on my other weblog), most Democratic legislators caved in and voted for this atrocious federal intrusion into a family disagreement. Including every Democratic Senator. Yesterday Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s website said that Wyden approved of the Schiavo bill after his concerns had been addressed in the version that was sent to the House.
I assume this means that Wyden disapproved of the initial version of the bill that applied to anyone in Schiavo’s situation. When the bill was rewritten to apply only to Terri Schiavo, Wyden got behind it.
But here’s my question for Wyden: “What are you going to do when Republicans sponsor a bill that would allow anyone to go into federal court to challenge how an incapacitated patient without an advance directive is being treated? How will you answer when you’re asked, ‘If the bill you voted for was good enough for Terri Schiavo, why shouldn’t a broader bill be passed that would apply to everybody in a similar situation?'”
Few, if any, people would want the Christian Defense Coalition filing a lawsuit and trying to tell them how a loved one in a Schiavo-like vegetative condition should be treated. Yet the Democrats have now implicitly said “Come on in!” to those who want to open the door to more intrusion by religious zealots in private family affairs.
The crazy thing is that most religious people don’t favor the Schiavo bill. The ABC poll found that even evangelicals were evenly divided on whether her feeding tube should be removed. So it’s frustrating that Democrats missed an opportunity to both vote for progressive principles and for the clear wishes of the American people. Namely, to keep the federal government out of individual end-of-life decisions.
Today Sen. Wyden’s web site has no mention of the Schiavo bill. It isn’t even listed as a “hot topic” on the home page, though clearly it is. I suspect that Wyden is hearing from so many angry constituents, he doesn’t want to publicize his support for this legislation.
Laurel and I are among the angry. We emailed the Oregon congressional delegation yesterday, urging them to vote against the bill. Rep. David Wu courageously opposed congressional intervention in the Schiavo case, as did Rep. Earl Blumenauer. We watched C-Span’s and CNN’s coverage of the House debate last night. Some other Democrats stood up for the Constitution and people’s right to privacy, making well-reasoned impassioned speeches. But not enough Democrats.
By and large, Democrats rolled over like good little lapdogs, just as the religious right wanted them to do. It didn’t matter that all the facts were on the side of those opposing passage of the Schiavo bill. Emotion and blind faith—“I know that Terri can laugh, smile, and respond to her loved ones! We can’t let Terri die!”—won out over reality.
Terri Schiavo’s court-appointed guardian found, after extensive study, that she indeed is in a permanent vegetative state. Today I heard CNN’s medical reporter, Sanjay Gutpa, say that he has researched the medical literature and found that no one, repeat, no one, has ever recovered from a permanent vegetative state. Yet Tom DeLay and other Republicans keep claiming that they can tell, apparently from video clips alone, that Terri Schiavo is conscious of her surroundings.
She isn’t. Over and over, the cable news networks show the same footage of Schiavo seeming to follow a large balloon as it is waved over her head, and seeming to smile as someone runs fingers through her hair. “Seeming” is the operative word. This article, “Understanding Terri Schiavo,” describes how people in a persistent or permanent vegetative state (there is some disagreement about Schiavo’s detailed diagnosis) can appear to be responding to stimuli, but the movements are almost certainly random or mere reflexes.
In today’s Salem Statesman Journal Sriram Khé has a timely opinion piece, “Rhetoric-over-fact culture threatens our democracy.” Laurel and I couldn’t agree more. The political positions of too many people on both the right and left are much more the product of personal feelings and religious faith than careful consideration of facts.
It is one thing to know the facts about a situation and come to your own opinion about how to handle the situation. It is quite another thing to spout your ignorant opinion—“Terri has been deprived of due process!”—when you haven’t the faintest clue about what is really going on.
It’s deeply unfortunate that most Democrats went along with right-wing rhetoric last weekend and ignored the facts of the Terri Schiavo case. A Los Angeles Times editorial today called it “The Midnight Coup,” saying that “this case once again shows that some social conservatives are happy to see the federal government acquire Stalinist proportions when imposing their morality on the rest of the country.”
But not only social conservatives. Social liberals too. That’s what makes the weekend’s events so disturbing.