Theresa “Terri” Schiavo, who was confined to a hospital bed unable to speak and condemned to death by federal and state courts that refused to intervene to save her life, has been transported to a new life where she will be able to communicate in a powerful new way. She will quickly become a saint to the pro-life movement as well as a metaphor for what is wrong with our federal and many state courts.
Possibly her death might add momentum to President Bush’s quest to get judges confirmed who believe in the fundamental right to life for all categories of human existence instead of judicial free-lancers who speak of a “living Constitution,” even while they arrogantly preside over a prejudicial reading of that document and sentence new categories of life to death.
While opinion polls showed overwhelming majorities in favor of “pulling the plug” on Terri Schiavo, it appears that despite extensive coverage of her condition, many Americans did not fully comprehend significant details of this case or fully appreciate where it will lead.
This will not be the end of such cases, but the beginning, or more accurately, a continuation on the line of death that began in the womb in 1973 with Roe v. Wade and will now quickly advance toward the “retirement” villages. The angel of death that moved through ancient Egypt at the first Passover was called “the destroyer.” Our courts are his modern incarnation.
No life is safe because every life now depends on the whims, desires, comfort level and pleasure of others. From an “endowed” right to life, we have quickly moved to a court-imputed right to die. Increasingly we do not speak of life at all, but death. America truly is, as Pope John Paul II has described it, a “culture of death.”
In the immediate aftermath of her death, there was a dispute between the Schindler and Schiavo families about access to Terri in her final moments. When the focus is on death and not life, it is difficult to detect common decency’s pulse.
In commenting on Terri’s death, President Bush, who signed legislation that attempted to keep her alive, said, “The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.” Duty? Who speaks of such things today? Didn’t Michael Schiavo have a duty to protect his wife instead of abandoning her and fathering two children by a woman to whom he was not married? How sick is that? Had Terri been given an MRI or PET scan that proved she was effectively “brain dead,” the controversy might have ended.
This case will serve as a rallying cry for pro-lifers and other social conservatives. Expect “Remember Terri Schiavo” bumper stickers to appear soon. Expect conservative Republicans to make her death part of the campaign to win approval of federal judges. Watch liberal Democrats squirm, though some of them voted, along with conservatives for the bill granting power to the federal courts to consider Terri’s case. That judges refused to save her, or even grant a hearing to consider new facts, is another blot on the federal judiciary. It is a stain that won’t be removed until those responsible are replaced.
There is another possibility. What if the polls are right and the public sees the removal of Terri’s feeding tube as an act of mercy and not murder. What then? In that case, we will know that the problem is not at the top — with judges and politicians — but in ourselves. We will see our leadership merely reflects the secret desires of most hearts to worship the god of materialism, personal peace and pleasure. In that case, we will get our just deserts as courts — at the urging of relatives wishing to preserve their inheritance or be relieved of “burdens” — dispatch the angel of death to more of us who are not ready to die.
Meanwhile, “St. Theresa” speaks. How many will listen? As singer Don McLean put it in another context: “They would not listen, they’re not listening still; perhaps they never will.”
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.