The most litigated right-to-die controversy in U.S. history finally ended last Thursday as Terri Schiavo, who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years, died 13 days after the removal of her feeding tubes.
But the family feud continues between her husband and her parents. There were allegations that her husband barred her brother from her room shortly before she died. And there were differences over Terri’s funeral arrangements. But Michael Schiavo, her husband, has custody of her body and planned to have her cremated.
After a state judge in Florida allowed her life support to be removed, even the U.S. Congress and President Bush got into the fray. Congress passed, and Bush signed, legislation permitting Schiavo’s parents to go through the federal courts, hoping that it would gain Schiavo more time. The scheme failed, as the federal courts rebuffed Congress at every appeal.
One of the justices of the 11th Circuit Court blasted Congress and Bush for trying to overstep their constitutional authority, which clearly outlines a separation of powers among the three branches of government. The Supreme Court six times refused to get involved.
Most Americans, whatever their opinions about Schiavo’s fate, were strongly opposed to federal intervention in what should have been a private family matter. Polls showed Bush lost considerable support, with an approval rating falling to 45 percent, his lowest ever.
Even so, House Republican leader Tom DeLay threatened further congressional action to stop what he termed “an arrogant and out-of-control judiciary.” But over the course of the Schiavo dispute, 40 judges were involved in some manner. With that many justices all on the same page, it doesn’t appear as though they were acting in an out-of-control manner.
It was purely and simply a political maneuver by Republicans in Congress. It happened to backfire. The only Americans who supported such action were the right-wing religious zealots like those who were camped outside Schiavo’s hospice. None of those people ever knew her personally; they were there not for the love of Schiavo, but for the love of their reactionary cause.
And it was the same with Congress and Bush. The same man who sent more than 1,500 Americans to their deaths to help out a third-world Middle Eastern country that didn’t even whole-heartedly want our help cut his vacation short in order to fly back to Washington to sign the bill that was supposed to help Schiavo’s vegetative body live longer.
If there was one positive thing that came out of the Schiavo media circus it was that it prompted more people to consider their own end-of-life scenarios. It compelled many of them to start writing their living wills and letting their families know what they would desire under similar circumstances.
One guy even published his living will on the Internet so everyone would know his wishes. Barney McClelland wrote in his Web log that his family should tell the doctors to “pull the plug” if he didn’t sit up and ask for a pint of Guinness beer within a reasonable amount of time. He also said he did not want Congress or the president to act on his behalf.
“I do not give a [darn] if a million semi-literate home-schooled religious zealots send grammatically incorrect and misspelled e-mails to legislators in which they pretend to care about me,” he went on. “I do not know these people, and I certainly have not authorized them to preach and crusade on my behalf.”
The Schiavo case might even prompt state governments to clarify who is in charge of a terminally-ill person. Indiana law lists various relatives, such as spouse, parents, and children, but places them in no particular order of priority.
Hopefully, too, more states will follow Oregon’s lead and pass legislation granting terminally ill and vegetative patients the right to end their own lives through euthanasia. After the judge in Schiavo’s case granted her husband the right to remove her feeding tube, most people would have felt more comfortable about her death if she had been given a lethal injection, instead of just being allowed to starve to death.