Random Schiavo thought
As the Terry Schiavo case wends its way through the federal court system, there’s a thought that keeps nagging at me. Ostensibly, the motivation behind the congressional and presidential decision to intervene was to preserve and broaden the “culture of life,” to use the term of art. The March 17th presidential statement essentially makes this ...
As the Terry Schiavo case wends its way through the federal court system, there's a thought that keeps nagging at me. Ostensibly, the motivation behind the congressional and presidential decision to intervene was to preserve and broaden the "culture of life," to use the term of art. The March 17th presidential statement essentially makes this argument:
As the Terry Schiavo case wends its way through the federal court system, there’s a thought that keeps nagging at me. Ostensibly, the motivation behind the congressional and presidential decision to intervene was to preserve and broaden the “culture of life,” to use the term of art. The March 17th presidential statement essentially makes this argument:
The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues. Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life. Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected – and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.
This is my nagging thought — could it be possible that making a federal case out of Terry Schiavo actually shrinks the culture of life? I wonder after reading this Chicago Tribune story by Bonnie Miller Rubin:
The wrenching debate over Terri Schiavo has made many people wonder if they can be sure their loved ones would carry out their wishes in a similar situation. In Schiavo’s case, both sides say they are acting as she would want. But without written documents, no one can know for sure, which is precisely why some legal experts are finding themselves busier than usual. “We’ve had quite an increase in calls,” said John Wank, acting director and general counsel of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, an agency that provides adult guardianship for people who did not appoint their own guardians. “A lot of folks are wondering if what happened in Florida could happen here. And if so, what can they do to prevent such a tragedy?”
Similarly, KWTX in Florida reports an explosion of interest in living wills:
As many as 75 percent of adults in the U.S. have not prepared written directives for their families to follow in the even they become medically incapacitated, experts say, but the publicity surrounding the legal battle over Terri Schiavo in Florida has sparked new interest in such living wills…. A Tallahassee-based agency, Aging with Dignity, has created a living will known as the “Five Wishes,” and has been flooded with orders for the document as the Schiavo case began to make headlines. The group is sending out more than 2,000 living wills a day and has distributed 1 million copies since the legal fight over Schiavo’s fate burst into the headlines in October 2003. “We get requests saying, ‘We have seen what happened in the Schiavo case and above all, we don’t want to see that same tragedy repeat itself in our family,'” Malley said.
Neither of these news stories is definitive. However, if this case has prompted a marked increase in the number of people specifying when they do not want heroic measures used to extend their biological life, then by their actions the Bush administration and both houses of Congress will have retarded rather than extended the culture of life. Just a thought. UPDATE: Many comentators, commenters and e-mailers have pointed out that feeding and hydration tubes are not normally thought of as “heroic measures” — which is true but only underscores my point. If it turns out that the Schiavo case triggers a backlash among most Americans, more people might codify living wills or other legal documents that go beyond the denial of DNRs and heroic measures, and ban additional treatments that are accepted within the medical profession as routine and justifiable. FINAL UPDATE: This post was inspired in part by the ABC poll showing hostility to federal intervention in this matter. Mickey Kaus provides an excellent collection of links suggesting that the poll question was improperly framed. However, Mystery Pollster disagrees and points to additional polling that reinforces my original point.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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