Enough About Teri Schiavo, Almost
This is probably the last current event that needs additional commentary, particularly from the benighted likes of me. However, in the self-centered hope that someone gives half a damn about my opinions on the matter, there are a few points I’d like to clarify. I’ll try to make them brief and painless.
Let me start out by saying that, like every other decent human in this country and the world over, I feel for Teri and her parents. I cannot possibly imagine what it must be like for them, the pain and anguish they are suffering (albeit of a different flavor for Teri than for her parents). The thought of existing in Teri’s body with the injuries she has sustained and the loss of control with which they have left her are unimaginable. For her parents, the knowledge that their daughter will never significantly recover and will live what must surely be acknowledged as a life in diminished capacity must be a source of constant grief. I’m not sure that anyone other than the Holy Spirit can offer them adequate comfort.
I also think that Teri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, should seriously consider doing two things, though not necessarily in the following order:
1. Get down on his knees and beg God for forgiveness for the way he has treated his wife by ignoring the vows he made on his wedding day.
2. Undergo plastic surgery, change his name, and move immediately out of Florida to somewhere safe (the Andromeda Galaxy comes to mind). I have a hunch that things might get rather unpleasant for Michael in the wake of his wife’s demise, but not nearly as unpleasant as the consequences of not doing what is suggested in the first paragraph.
I also wonder if it is obvious only to me the conflict of interest and perverse incentive that stands out like a thyroid tumor in Michael’s decision to shut off his wife’s sources of sustenance. Apparently none of the judges in the state of Florida’s legal system thought so. While this is regrettable, not to mention unbelievable, it leads me to my next point: the legal decision on Teri’s fate is final. Over, done, decided. End of story.
I understand the visceral reaction of those who have supported Teri’s parents in their quest to have the federal government intervene in an attempt to save their daughter’s life, including an appeal to congress and the supreme court. I also believe that Florida state supreme court judge George Greer’s order to have Teri’s feeding tube removed constitutes judicially-sanctioned murder. I believe it is an abomination of a decision, a miscarriage of justice, a travesty that will have repercussions not yet imagined for millions yet unborn. But I also believe in the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
You see, for though this has hardly been the “finest hour” for the legal system of the state of Florida, there are simply no constitutional grounds here for federal intervention. The decision involving Teri’s fate is purely a matter for the state of Florida to decide, period. We may not like their courts’ decision, we may think it a miscarriage of justice, but we cannot with any degree of seriousness identify any federal or constitutional issues in this case.
But wait, you might say, what about all of the other occasions on which the U.S. supreme court has issued stays of execution for condemned prisoners? To this I would say that in 99.99 percent of these cases, that intervention was unwarranted and unconstitutional as well, unless some issue of federal law was involved (rarely ever the case with capital crimes). In other words, one wrong is not solved by committing another wrong.
Alright, then what about federal legislation protecting Teri and other disabled persons like her? What about federal right-to-life legislation for the unborn? Again, none of this is remotely constitutional. In fact, you could argue that such legislation is superfluous, there being an obscure little legal text called the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution that already prohibits states from depriving their citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process of law (I have issues with this amendment’s evolution, but that is saved for another rant). If the Constitution already mandates that the states adhere to the precepts of the Bill of Rights, why is additional federal legislation necessary?
More to the point, if the citizens of the states in question feel that there is a problem with their state’s laws, courts, or application thereof, they already have remedy at the state level. The federal courts were never intended to be a refuge for citizens of the states who are dissatisfied with verdicts handed down as perfectly legitimate law by their own courts.
If Teri’s family and their supporters and well-wishers are dissatisfied with the performance of the Florida courts, they need to vent their outrage by going to work for changes at home. Here are some bits of free advice:
1. Make a presence in Tallahassee. Bring pressure on your state legislators to enact tougher new laws requiring more stringent standards for demonstrated intent in right-to-die cases, such as requiring that a person have a living will that clearly states their intentions before allowing the proverbial “plug” to be pulled. This will also go a long way toward removing the perverse incentives so clearly motivating those like Michael Schiavo by taking the power of life or death out of their hands.
2. If your state legislators refuse to do the above, launch a recall petition. Start a publicity campaign that will make public these politicians’ positions on issues like this one. If a sizeable portion of the state is on your side, reelection will be a very distant likelihood for these people. That’s all the motivation most politicians need to straighten up and fly right.
3. Start a “judicial watch” of your state supreme court. In the case of Judge Greer, examine his rulings in previous cases that may be similar to the Schiavo case. Does he have a history of basing his rulings on the precepts of the U.S. and Florida state constitutions, or is he an “activist” who rules based on his own opinions? If it turns out be the latter, start a campaign to impeach him or remove him from the bench. There is no more heinous a form of judicial misconduct than ignoring the state or federal constitutions when rendering legal decisions. I don’t know if Florida’s state judges are elected or appointed, but if they are elected, start a campaign to defeat the judge during the next election. If judges are appointed, seek a recall, if permitted by state law. No matter what the course of action, the public voice can and will be heard if people are willing to make their presence felt.
Once again, my heartfelt sympathies are fully with the Schiavo family in this terrible time and they have my full agreement that the court’s actions have been shameful. But let’s not a cure bad law with more bad law. As much as we think further intervention is warranted, stop to imagine the precedent that will be set by continuing to allow the federal government to intervene where it is not constitutionally authorized to do so. Isn’t this problem enough already, and do we want more of it in our future, for causes much less noble than this one?