March 23, 2005


Politics and Life's End (New Dem Dispatch, March 23, 2005)

One of the "values" issues on which many millions of Americans have been forced to become experts is the tangle of decisions that must often be made with respect to the care of loved ones at life's end. According to the Pew Research Center's Andrew Kohut, one-third of Americans have experienced the death of a friend or relative after the termination of life support, and half of them were involved in the decision to let life end. It's inherently a painful decision where the law's function is less to provide guidance than to seek to fulfill the patient's wishes and give health care providers some basis on which to operate.

The decision by the Republican congressional leadership to go crashing into one case, involving Terry Schiavo, with an "emergency" session of Congress, showed no understanding of how common this kind of decision has become, and no interest in providing sensible guidance. Indeed, the ringleader in the effort, House Republican Leader Tom DeLay, used terms like "murder," "barbarism," and "medical terrorism" for a decision that nobody would even be talking about if there were not a legal dispute between Schiavo's husband and parents over her care.

If the Schiavo case were actually about divining her wishes and confirming her condition, then we could certainly sympathize with the idea of going the extra mile, even after seven years of litigation, to make those determinations, and leaning in the direction of maintaining life support in the meantime. But that's not what the case is actually about. As DeLay and company, along with Schiavo's parents and their attorneys, have made abundantly clear, they regard the withdrawal of "nutrition and hydration" as either "murder" or "suicide," regardless of the patient's or his or her family's wishes, and regardless of the hopelessness of any recovery. And the logical course of action they will pursue is a congressional ban on withdrawal of certain types of life support.


Posted by Orrin Judd at March 23, 2005 3:51 PM

....and water. Politics as death cult. Take the black robes away and put judges in feathered robes and ornate headgear. Since they want the role, let them look like Aztec human sacrificers.

Posted by: Luciferous at March 23, 2005 5:58 PM


That is a brilliant visual metaphor. Wish I'd thought of it myself.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at March 23, 2005 11:00 PM