“No compelling reason to kill Terri Schiavo,” by Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times, 27 March 2005, http://www.suntimes.com/output/steyn/cst-edt-steyn271.html (from Right Wing News).
I was going to call this “Mark Steyn Wrong on Terri Schiavo.” And then “Mark Steyn Twice Wrong and Terri Schiavo.” Then, “Mark Steyn Thrice Wrong on Terri Schiavo.” But Steyn’s errors and misrepresentations were so many and varied that only a fisking would do.
Let’s start at the top.
This is not a criminal, not a murderer, not a person whose life should be in the gift of the state. So I find it repulsive, and indeed decadent, to have her continued existence framed in terms of ”plaintiffs” and ”petitions” and ”en banc review” and ”de novo” and all the other legalese. Mrs. Schiavo has been in her present condition for 15 years. Whoever she once was, this is who she is now — and, after a decade and a half, there is no compelling reason to kill her. Any legal system with a decent respect for the status quo — something too many American judges are increasingly disdainful of — would recognize that her present life, in all its limitations, is now a well-established fact, and it is the most grotesque judicial overreaching for any court at this late stage to decide enough is enough. It would be one thing had a doctor decided to reach for the morphine and ”put her out of her misery” after a week in her diminished state; after 15 years, for the courts to treat her like a Death Row killer who’s exhausted her appeals is simply vile.
Mark’s first three paragraphs were an anecdote about Canada, but he makes up for wasted time in a error-ridden paragraph. The offending portions are bolded.
First, his complaint about legalese is at best nonsensical, at worst dangerous. What is he really complaining about? That a custody dispute be settled in the law courts? That a matter of life and death be settled in the law courts? That law courts can be hard to follow? If it’s the first two, he’s condemning the rule of law. If it’s the last, then his concern for Plain English law jargon is parocial in a case that’s captivated the nation.
Second, his “status quo” comment is weird. Courts should have a decent respect for the law. If a law is unjust but otherwise Constitutional, it is the Legilsature’s duty to change it. If Mr. Steyn wants a Constitutional amenmdent stating “Changing things should be assumed ot be bad,” let him push for it!
Third, his repitition of the death-row meme is incoherent. In other places he accuses the court of treating her worse than a killer. So which is it? Got intellectual consistency?
There seems to be a genuine dispute about her condition — between those on her husband’s side, who say she has ”no consciousness,” and those on her parents’ side, who say she is capable of basic, childlike reactions. If the latter are correct, ending her life is an act of murder. If the former are correct, what difference does it make? If she feels nothing — if there’s no there there — she has no misery to be put out of. That being so, why not err in favor of the non-irreversible option?
At best ignorant. At worst dishonest.
If she is in a persistent vegetative state, her actions are governed by her spinal cord. She has the awareness of a lizard. Not a child. Even if she is in a state of minimal consciousness, which her parents and Governor Bush claim, she would be barely aware of her surroundings. In either case, a child is much more aware of his surroundings than Terri is.
The here’s-your-shroud-and-what’s-your-hurry crowd say, ah, yes, but you uptight conservatives are always boring on about the sanctity of marriage, and this is what her husband wants, and he’s legally the next of kin.
Michael Schiavo is living in a common-law relationship with another woman, by whom he has fathered children. I make no judgment on that. Who of us can say how we would react in his circumstances? Maybe I’d pull my hat down over my face and slink off to the cathouse on the other side of town once a week. Maybe I’d embark on a discreet companionship with a lonely widow. But if I take on a new wife (in all but name) and make a new family, I would think it not unreasonable to forfeit any right of life or death over my previous wife.
Michael Schiavo took a vow to be faithful in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do them part. He’s forsaken his wife and been unfaithful to her: She is, de facto, his ex-wife, yet, de jure, he appears to have the right to order her execution. This is preposterous. Suppose his current common-law partner were to fall victim to a disabling accident. Would he also be able to have her terminated? Can he exercise his spousal rights polygamously? The legal deference to Mr. Schiavo’s position, to his rights overriding her parents’, is at odds with reality
For another opinion, Jesus of Nazareth
What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate
Oh, but maybe Mike committed adultery…
Wait, Christ again:
You have heard that it was said, â€˜You Shall Not Commit Adulteryâ€™;
but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So Mike fails the test for perfection, as does every mere mortal.
Steyn is arguing for a radical devaluation of marriage, so that it may be seperated by one man without law-court or direct intent without the wife’s consent. That may be Wahabi Sharia (strict Islamic) law. It certainly isn’t American.
As for the worthlessness of Terri Schiavo’s existence, some years back I was discussing the death of a distinguished songwriter with one of his old colleagues. My then girlfriend, in her mid-20s, was getting twitchy to head for dinner and said airily, ”Oh, well, he had a good life. He was 87.” ”That’s easy for you to say,” said his old pal. ”I’m 86.” To say nobody would want to live in an iron lung or a wheelchair or a neck brace or with third-degree burns over 80 percent of your body is likewise easy for you to say.
Anyone whose family has faced that choice would answer, “No, it’s not.”
But that’s easy for us to say. We can’t know which camp we’d fall into until it happens to us. And it behooves us to maintain a certain modesty about presuming to speak for others — even those we know well. Example: ”Driving down there, I remember distinctly thinking that Chris would rather not live than be in this condition.” That’s Barbara Johnson recalling the 1995 accident of her son Christopher Reeve. Her instinct was to pull the plug; his was to live.
He woke up within a decade. Terri didn’t.
As to arguments about ”Congressional overreaching” and ”states’ rights,” which is more likely? That Congress will use this precedent to pass bills keeping you — yes, you, Joe Schmoe of 37 Elm Street — alive till your 118th birthday. Or that the various third parties who intrude between patient and doctor in the American system — next of kin, HMOs, insurers — will see the Schiavo case as an important benchmark in what’s already a drift toward a culture of convenience euthanasia. Here’s a thought: Where do you go to get a living-will kit saying that in the event of a hideous accident I don’t want to be put to death by a Florida judge or the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals? And, if you had such a living will, would any U.S. court recognize it?
Misdirection. Steyn opens talking about those who oppose force-feeding Mrs. Shiavo because of a love of the Constitution and federalism… and ends saying it is unlike that the reader will be effected by the case.
Steyn is a brighter writer than this. He never addresses the concern. An injustice against the Constitution, against our ancient States, is wrong whether or not it effects me.