Thursday, March 24, 2005


One of my readers has posted two long comments in response to my post (and Dr. Jeff Wilson's guest post) on Terry Shiavo. You can read the below in the comments section of "Saving Private Shiavo." Joe V. is a very old friend of mine. I've known him since the 2nd grade. During those early years he battled cancer (as he notes in his comment) and I was witness to the physical and psychological turmoil he suffered as a result. I have always considered myself his friend, though perhaps I was not always the best friend I could be. Joe and I lost touch sometime after college, though I get word of him from mutual friends on occassion. Joe was, last time I knew enough to judge, a conservative Republican and an admirer of Antonin Scalia's political and judicial views. This is of course his right.

His comments presume to poke wholes in my earlier argument about the Shiavo case and Bush's motives for pursuing it -- but they really do nothing of the sort. First of all, Joe never addresses the incontravertible evidence (the "talking points" for instance) that the Republican Party (which doesn't go to the bathroom without the approval or George Bush and Karl Rove) has seen this case in purely political terms from the beginning. Secondly, he doesn't address the fact that Bush's position has flip-flopped since the signing of his hospital-friendly bill in Texas. Thirdly, his sense of what's at stake in this case -- and of what the case "is" generally -- is just all wrong. Let me see if I can explain.

Joe states that his personal battle with terminal illness makes this case near and dear to him, and gives the impression that this makes his opinion authoritative. But in fact the opposite is true. When a case is "near and dear" to you a judge throws you off the jury, and with very good reason -- namely, because your ability to be impartial (and thus to provide the sort of peer judgement the Constitution envisions) is seriously in doubt. I feel very badly that Joe is still battling cancer, having suffered it again as recently as two years ago -- but if anything, this makes me trust his opinion of the Shiavo case less, not more. I respect him too much to patronize him by pretending this isn't the case.

By the same token, I myself am having to struggle to keep my personal experiences from affecting my opinion of this case. In the last three months, two people I love very much have died -- too soon -- from terminal illness. Both of them were able to make conscious decisions about how they wanted to die and both chose to die with grace and dignity and without prolonging the inevitable beyond the time they needed to convene with their loved ones. These too are experiences quite differenent from those in the Shiavo case. Unlike Joe's situation and those of my two family members Terry Shiavo CAN NOT make her own decision.

And that is the central fact. Terry Shiavo has a husband who -- no one really disputes -- she loved at the time she slipped into a vegetative state. What the courts have said, over and over, is that, barring strong evidence that it would be illegal, the decision to withdraw various forms of life support is HIS, the husband's. Not her parents or her siblings or her uncles or her friends. Her husband's. When someone you love is dying, you have innumerable conflicting emotions. Sometimes you don't want them to go even though you know that they are needlesly suffering and that THEY want to go. Sometimes people within the circles of loved ones disagree as to how to proceed. So the court invests SOMEONE with the authority to make that decision. Imagine the absolute chaos that would ensue if they didn't! And in this case it is the husband. Terry Shiavo's parents can believe whatever they want -- and we as citizens can sympathize with them or not. But they simply have no legal roll in deciding her fate. Period. As a spouse, I think this is quite right.

As far as the attempts to discredit Michael Shiavo as some sort of con man, I find them absolutely appauling and insulting . Five years after his wife slipped into a vegetative state he started dating another woman. We're supposed to take this as evidence that he didn't love her? C'mon! If God forbid, I slipped into a vegetative state I'd certainly want my wife to start a new life after five years. Hell, two or three years of mourning would be fine with me. And as for the malpractice money, it's gone folks. DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY THINK THAT THIS GUY, MICHAEL SHIAVO, WOULD HAVE WENT THROUGH THIS LEVEL OF TOTAL HELL, FIFTEEN YEARS FIGHTING HIS WIFE'S PARENTS, FOR THE FEW BUCKS THAT ARE LEFT? Puh-lease. The guy simply wants his wife to die peacefully after being kept needlessly alive, it seems to me. You can disagree with him but to pretend that this is not a plausible response from a loving husband is completely ridiculous. (As an aside, the fact that Nat Hentoff -- "a liberal" as Joe puts it -- sides with Shiavo's parents means nothing to me. Nat Hentoff is a fine jazz critic but I don't think he has anything especially enlightening to say about this case or politics generally.)

Lastly, Joe posits that my view of George Bush's role in this case is clouded by my hatred of Bush himself. Well, okay, I do hate Bush with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. But, sheesh!, do you really need to dislike Bush to recognize what a pathetic pandering job he's doing in this case? He is doing what IN ALMOST EVERY OTHER CASE he would not do: get involved in a private matter obviously under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida. Indeed, the only other case I can think of where he meddled with the Florida courts 2000 election which made him president.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


My point was not to poke "wholes" [sic] in your tirade against the Republican party. I could care less about the Republican party and your battle with it. I only know my own motives. I lack the x-ray vision into the souls of others that you apparently have. My only point by mentioning Bush was to say that not everything your enemy does is evil.

Moreover, it is a mistake to see this issue as a conservative/liberal battle. Many conservatives commentators have sided with you (George Will, John Derbyshire, Jonathon Alter, Charles Fried, etc.), many liberal ones have sided with me (Ralph Nader, Lanny Davis, James Carville, Mark Shields, etc.). The Congressional vote to allow Federal due process review of the case was passes with wide by-partisan numbers (including many members with spotless progressive voting records) and was sponsored by members of the Democratic leadership. The idea that issues involving life are a federal matter and, thus, should be subject to federal court purview is a longstanding liberal position, as fully advanced in both the right to privacy and the death penalty review opinions by Justices Brennan, Blackmun, and Marshall. Finally, in this specific case, in the 11th Circuit split decision the majority opinion (siding with you) was in part from a conservative Bush appointee, while the dissent (siding with me) was from a liberal Clinton appointee.

That being said, let me respond to the rest of your responses. I am all for "individual free choice" in a decision such as this. But, that's the problem here. Terri did not make a choice here. Michael is making it for her. Which is fine, by itself. However, that choice has been challenged by her parents and siblings. The role of the court is to determine what Terri would have wanted and what is in her best interest. However, the trial court hearing on that issue was fundamentally flawed, in my opinion, because Michael's attorneys spoke for Terri. I believe an independent advocate (guardian ad litem) should have been employed. I am not presuming to know Michael's motives. However, there are numerous conflicts of interest and other reasons why an independent voice speaking for Terri would have be appropriate. As it was, there was no such voice (one was later appointed, as my second post indicated, but his report was not judicially noted because the law appointing him was challenged). Very few people (and certainly no liberal I am aware of) would question the regular procedure of a court appointing such an independent voice to speak for a legally incapacitated person (minor, mentally disabled, etc.) in other custody/abuse hearings. Why should things be any different here, Mike? What would be so terrible about Terri having her own advocate or, for that matter, her parents being able to have their day in court? What would be so wrong about conducting an actual medical examination of Terri (since there hasn't been one done in almost 10 years) before starving her to death? Unfortunately, the law does not allow for either, but that does not make it right.


March 28, 2005 at 12:48 PM  

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