It is definitely through-the-looking-glass time in this country. Things aren’t just curiouser and curiouser they exist in a fractured wonderland divorced from reality. There’s Tom DeLay grinning like the Cheshire cat with Terri Schiavo’s brother after the House voted to send her case into federal court. During the discussions last night it became clear that many members of The House held “pro-life” religious beliefs to which many of them alluded. Others, like DeLay, are in it for what seems to be political gain. More pragmatic House members said they were not in a position to analyze Terri’s condition from a distance nor were they qualified to do so in any case, and neither were any other members of Congress.
The case had been litigated and decided by the Florida courts, after deliberations that included: the appointment of a guardian ad litem; the testimony of friends and family; physicians who treated and observed Terri’s condition over a period of fifteen years. It is understandable that her parents might cling to the hope that she would in time emerge from her state of immobility and return to some semblance of her former self. It is also understandable, without casting doubt as to his motives, that her husband would have reached a different conclusion. Some say that Mr. Schiavo abandoned his wife and neglected her care, but even after just a few years of such incapacitation, one might accept as reasonable a spousal decision to give up hope.
And for those who suggest that Mr. Schiavo should turn his wife’s care over to her parents; consider one health care professional’s assessment of the case. In that instance the claim is made that since the husband neglected Terri’s care, spending the judgment received on legal action instead of rehabilitative measures, he should be removed as her guardian and sued by her family and the hospice for payment of her care which depends now on Medicaid. Perhaps it is time, if this court rules in the parents’ favor, for Mr. Schiavo to remove himself since he has tried his best to do what he says Terri would have wished. But he would have to be held blameless and the state and the parents would have to assume responsibility for Terri’s ongoing care.
In the wake of intransigence in the House over matters of ethics and attempts by the president and some members of Congress to cut domestic health care programs for the needy, the Schiavo matter is an unsettling non sequitur. But of course as they have indicated, Republicans think the case is a political winner for them and perhaps they can make it resonate. Still there are many people who are disturbed by Congress deciding to make an end run around the courts and set itself up as the arbiter of how to proceed with respect to a matter about which they have no real knowledge and dubious standing. Laws created for a singular purpose in the midst of ongoing procedures are scary instruments and have often been the subject of criticism and derision when enacted by totalitarian regimes. And sermonesque entonements in The House Sunday night were a disturbing example of the ongoing effort to imbue our political institutions with a religious subtext.
But what is quite stunning in its irony is The Texas “Futile Care” legislation signed into law by then Governor Bush in 1999. That law allows hospitals to discontinue care for patients deemed to have terminal or irreversible conditions and an inability to pay for ongoing care. Recently a profoundly disabled 6-month-old infant was refused additional care despite the pleas of his mother and subsequently died. Currently that hospital wishes to “pull the plug” in the case of an elderly patient. That matter is in a Texas court. But what’s so remarkable is that the Texas law seemed to have attracted little attention at the time of its passage. Apparently there were no emotional speeches about allowing God to decide when death should come. Rather the legal framework rested upon judgments as to the efficacy of further treatment as well as financial considerations.
It isn’t clear which course of action is more cynical- -the clarion calls in Congress or the Futile Care law in Texas. In fairness there are of course serious religious and philosophical concerns relating to the Schiavo matter. But the obvious hypocrisy among House leaders regarding their own conduct and this retroactive-type legislation are disturbing signs of an intrusive government that has forgotten its proper role in our society.

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