Thursday, January 27, 2005

Monday, the same day thousands marched in Washington in opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which opened the floodgates to abortion on demand, that same court refused to reinstate a Florida law designed to keep alive a severely brain-damaged woman.

How ghoulishly ironic.

The Florida law, pushed through the legislature by Gov. Jeb Bush, sought to keep Terri Schiavo alive by preventing removal of a feeding tube. Her parents say Terri responds to their voices and they want the feeding tube to remain. Terri’s husband, Michael, says she would not want to live this way. He has asked the courts to allow removal of the tube.

Terri left no written directive and Michael has presented no evidence she would want to die in this condition. It is worth noting Michael Schiavo has indicated he plans to marry another woman, with whom he has two children. Terri Schiavo’s parents say their son-in-law wants his wife to die so he can inherit her estate and remarry.

The Supreme Court has declared the unborn have no right to live; it has also suggested the already born have a right to die.

This is a legal curiosity, as our Founding documents speak of an endowed, unalienable right to life, but nowhere mention a right to die. We know where the first right comes from. It comes from our Creator. We must conclude the second “right” comes from the courts, which have replaced the Creator as the sole source and arbiter of truth and grantor of rights.

Normally, in the absence of a living will or other directive that informs medical personnel and legal authorities of the wishes of a person unable to communicate her wishes, that right would fall to the husband. But this case differs in several ways.

Not only are Terri Schiavo’s wishes not known, the state faces conflicting interests leading to different ends. Mrs. Schiavo’s parents want her to live and have pledged to care for her. Michael Schiavo wants her to die.

By refusing to step in and take the case, the Supreme Court has affirmed the decision by the Florida Supreme Court that Terri has a “right” to die, though there is little legal or (shudder) theological precedent for any such “right.” The court may clarify its position when it rules on Oregon’s “right-to-die” law, probably next month.

It is a truism that difficult cases often make bad law. The supposed rape of a young woman and her pregnancy (“Jane Roe” was impregnated by her boyfriend, but claimed she was raped, hoping to improve her chances for a legal abortion) resulted in Roe vs. Wade. An extreme and flawed case led to abortion for any reason and in any “season” of pregnancy.

If the Terri Schiavo case becomes the new standard for people unable to communicate their wishes, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain any standard for life’s value beyond what the courts say.

The courts’ new “standard” can be opinion polls, resolutions passed by the American Medical Association or a whim. Some might think eliminating the elderly would fix the Social Security funding problem without increasing taxes or reducing benefits. Call it “selective reduction.” That’s what they call aborting one or more babies when more than one occupy a womb. By what standard would that be considered wrong?

If there is no right to live, which comes from a source outside human will and whim, why should there be any impediment to a “right” to die? Doesn’t society have the “right” to be free of the burdens imposed on taxpayers from people who have “lived long enough” or would have “wanted to die”?

Let’s get over these religious restraints and do what’s “best” for the most people. Abort “unwanted” babies. Euthanize the unwanted elderly and those in a “persistent vegetative state.” Counselors will be available to erase whatever qualms might remain from ages past.

This unraveling of life’s threads leads to a place many people may not wish to go. Having not stopped the unraveling when they could, there is no way they will be able to stop it when they wish. Life is connected. Declare one category unfit to live and all categories are at risk.

Like Terri Schiavo’s life.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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