I have to say that I am surprised at the hostility of some of the responses, largely in the comments, but also in e-mail, to my comments on Terri Schiavo. I acknowledge that it is not an easy case. Indeed, I didn’t have a strong opinion on this issue one way or the other until I started following it while in Cleveland to attend my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. Then, I began to chance upon some facts which, while they changed me views, didn’t prevent me from understanding the other side.
As I have said before, I believe we should err on the side of life and reinsert the feeding tube. It seems beyond cruel to starve someone to death, far different from turning off a machine keeping a comatose person breathing or keeping her heart beating. (See, for example, this insightful piece by Rabbi Aryeh Spero.)
I wrote my last post on the topic because like Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, I recognize that those who favor removing the feeding tube have a strong legal case. One of the things I remember from law school is the a trial court determines the facts while appellate courts review the law. As I understand it, in this case, the trial court established that were she to be in vegetative state, Terri Schiavo would not want machines to keep her alive.
Her parents and siblings, however, disagree. They believe she would have wanted to be kept alive in such circumstances. And they very much want her to live — even in this state. Powerline noted that Michael Schiavo had better legal representation at the trial court level, and her parents’ attorney was not well equipped to handle such a case. So, despite the parents’ claims, the law is clearly on the side of Michael Schiavo and those who want to remove the feeding tube.
But, given this difference between these two groups of people, each of whom claims to love Terry, I, like the president, believe we should err on the side of life. Like Portia’s plea to spare Antonio (even though the law was against him), I join countless others in asking Michael, as her legal guardian, to show some mercy and turn her over to her parents.
That said, I fault those who have dragged him through the mud, claiming he is eager for his wife to die. Despite these claims, I heard on the radio today that he has spent hours at his wife’s bedside. Perhaps he really is honoring his wife’s wishes. He did say, under oath (and thus under penalty of perjury were he lying), that Terri would have wanted to die in such circumstances.
I am, however, troubled that he remains her guardian even as he has dated and now lives with another woman, fathering two children by her. Some claim that social conservatives who want to keep Terri Schiavo alive, ignoring the husband’s wishes, but otherwise tout the sanctity of marriage are hypocrites. While I don’t normally support such social conservatives, I disagree with this critique. A key aspect of marriage is fidelity to one’s spouse. As Michael has not remained faithful to Terri, it seems his marriage to her is one in name only.
I don’t blame Michael Schiavo for taking up with another woman. After all he’s been through, it is only natural that he would seek solace (and so much more) in a loving and intimate relationship. But, since he has taken up with another woman in a circumstances which are identical to what was once called “common-law marriage,” it seems he should forfeit his rights as Terri’s husband. We should thus yield to Terri’s parents in determining whether or not to keep her alive.
A reader wrote in to share a story of a similar (though not identical situation) from his family. I reprint it with his permission, changing the names:
It would seem to me appropriate for Michael to get a divorce from Terri . . . to be married to another woman. My aunt Sally suffered for a very long time with multiple sclerosis, which progressively worsened and ultimately took her life about two years ago. My uncle cared for her until she passed away, but he divorced her a few years earlier as the multiple sclerosis was getting much, much worse. After divorcing, he found another woman, Betsy, and married her shortly before my aunt’s passing, and Betsy also cared for Sally.
So, I think my uncle did the right thing. Rather than being married to someone and wishing for her demise while effectively being married to someone else, he did not seek out a relationship with another woman while married to Sally, and he cared for her until the end. As a family, we are glad that Sally is no longer suffering, but we allowed God (or nature, if you will) to take her rather than the withholding of basic human needs.
While the situations are different, I wish that Michael had acted as this reader’s uncle. As long as there are relatives who wish to keep someone alive, we should keep that person alive (absent a clear “living will” indicating the contrary).
This is not an easy issue and it raises a whole host of issues, issues that, in many ways, are as old as civilization itself. Four hundred years ago, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare addressed the conflict between life and law. It is our nation’s legal system, flawed though it is, which protects not only our liberties, but more importantly our lives. We should not lightly question judicial rulings which have survived countless appeals.
While I was not entirely comfortable with the actions Congress took on Palm Sunday, I noted that, of the Democrats voting, nearly half (47 of 100) voted with the Republican majority to allow for a de novo review of Terri Schiavo’s case. Many fear our nation becoming a theocracy, yet, it now appears, that the “theocrats” have failed in this one, despite support from the Governor of the state where Terri lives and the President of the United States as well as majorities (or so it appears) in the Florida and federal legislatures.
And, in this case at least, the “theocrats” weren’t trying to deprive a sinner or heretic of his life or liberty, but to keep an innocent woman alive.
Many others have written more thoughtfully on this topic than I. If I were not so busy this week, I would link many of the pieces I found insightful — on both sides of the issue. I should also note that the writers and talk show hosts I admire are divided on the issue.
Let us all take a deep breath and consider the ideas, the opinions of those with whom we disagree on the topic. While I doubt this case will have much impact on the long-term political fortunes of either party, I do hope it will lead to a serious debate of this very complex issue.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com