There’s no hope now for Terri Schiavo, not unless one of the worms turn.
Just who all the worms are is not yet clear. Michael Schiavo, the errant husband, has never been this close to sending Terri into eternity. His behavior in this drama has been worm-like.
Or maybe the judges are the worms. The justices of the Florida and federal courts, who ordinarily revel in their ability to make up laws when they can’t find one in the law books to suit their purposes of the moment, have decreed that there’s no legal way to save Terri from the death by starvation and dehydration that convicted serial killers, murderers of children and others on death row would be spared.
The Florida legislators who blocked Gov. Jeb Bush’s attempts to save Terri by new legislation certainly resemble worms. If one or two state senators had not changed their votes Terri would be back on her feeding tube now.
All the candidates for wormhood have shared in the crocodile tears that accompany the warrant that Terri must die because there’s no room for inconvenient vegetables at the American table. They’re all so sad, so full of sympathy, such as it is, for Terri’s mother, father and siblings. Some of them might even send flowers to the funeral, so deep is their distress and dolor, or at least a condolence card — by Hallmark, of course, which is what you send when you want to send the very best.
Or maybe not. Life, when inconvenient for the living, has become cheap in modern America. This is not your grandfather’s country. The moral for everyone, and particularly for the aging and the terminally ill and those who one day may be old and ill, is this: be careful when and where you get sick.
The courts in other times have had scant use for or patience with hearsay evidence. But not this time, when the important thing is to get Terri out of the way in a hurry. Terri never signed a “living will”; we have only Michael Schiavo’s word that his wife once told him that she wouldn’t want to be living plugged into a machine or feeding tube. Or something like that. He was never quite sure what Terri, a devout Catholic, actually said about any of that, if she said anything, not until several years later and a $1.2 million windfall judgment against the “caregivers” who screwed up Terri’s care suddenly jogged his memory.
By this time, the man who once stood up and promised to be faithful to Terri “until death us do part,” had found another woman who would bear him two children while waiting for Terri to die. Michael insists that death by starvation is what Terri wants. Did she also want him to find another woman with whom to father children while waiting for her to die? (Women are like that.) If she becomes the next Mrs. Schiavo, the current occupant of Michael’s bed might well shudder at the thought of one day getting sick under his watch.
For their part, the various judges who sentenced Terri did what they could to dispatch her to the earliest possible grave. Why? we might wonder. Was the rush to get Terri to a mortuary so great that the sentence could not have been stayed until all the appeals to appellate courts, to the legislature, even to the governor, were exhausted?
The brothers Bush have done all they could to spare Terri until her divinely allotted days on this coil have run their course. Well, nearly all. Jeb Bush, if he wants to make like bright, bold governors of a more virile and robust era in America, still has the authority to put the worms in their rightful place.
The constitution and statutes of Florida authorize the governor to use the police powers of the state to order the feeding tube inserted once more, even dispatching his own agents to do it. This will bring down rage and anger from those who regard inconvenient life cheap and the authority of the judiciary to be greater than the authority of both the executive and the people, despite what the state’s constitution may say. It’s an article of faith (secular, of course) that unelected judges have the final say over how we should live our lives, indeed whether we should live at all.
The governor might even risk impeachment, but what better issue on which to risk all than to risk it saving the life of a helpless and innocent woman, about whom the worms care nothing at all. Life is a gift, and precious. This was once the abiding American belief, and it could be again.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.