Monday, April 4


The Associated Press (AP) reports this morning that in the wake of Terri Schiavo's court-ordered death by dehydration and starvation in Florida there is some action already underway and a greater expectation for considerable action in the near future from statehouses throughout the country to draft and pass legislation dealing with end of life issues, such as "who gets to decide" and "what evidence is needed" to have the life of someone on some form of "life support" (and that will need to be defined better, too) ended.

And woven into the woof and warp of the political process around such legislation will be a transcendant discussion of basic morality and the value of life, as both are being impacted by "changing views about death" in this country.

"I was gripped by what I was watching and couldn't believe the state of Florida would let this woman die in this manner," said GOP state Rep. Cynthia Davis. Her bill would bar anyone from directing that artificially supplied food and water be withheld or withdrawn without a specific written directive from the patient.

There's also a slew of legislation around living wills and other end-of-life issues that wouldn't further the aims of this emerging group - like a Nevada measure that would let a guardian end life-sustaining measures even if it's against a patient's known wishes, as long as it's in their best interests.

The views of medical care and ending life have shifted over the past 30 years as the country grappled with brain-damaged or coma-bound patients whose families said they shouldn't be forced to live a life they wouldn't want, starting with Karen Ann Quinlan in 1975, then to Nancy Cruzan in 1990 and now to Schiavo.

Critics say the medical community and society have gone too far. "When original advance directives were created, nobody contemplated that hospitals would refuse to treat ... It was usually just the opposite, doctors refusing to pull the feeding tube," said Burke Balch, director of the National Right to Life Committee's medical ethics center.

As the AP story concludes in citing the complexity of the issues legislators must address and the forces of politics and bio-ethics that will come to bear on them:

Political agendas are hard to discount, as congressional leaders raise dire warnings against judges in Florida and Washington over their Schiavo decisions. That meshes with GOP efforts to put more conservatives in the judiciary.

But political stereotypes fell, too, with traditionally liberal leaders like Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader supporting Terri Schiavo's parents efforts to keep their daughter alive.

Advocates vow that the questions of civil rights and morality are going to win out.

"If there's any doubt, than life trumps death," said Donnelly, in Kansas. "I'm a quadriplegic, been that way for 28 years. I would hate for somebody else to decide my life is not worth living."

I suspect Theresa Schindler Schiavo felt much the same way, Mr. Donnelly, as her husband and ghoulish attorney orchestrated her premature, gruesome death with the full, unwavering complicity of a Florida court and the astounding indifference of Federal judges. Let's make sure legislators across this land do for the handicapped and cognitively-disabled what the Florida legislature was altogether remiss in doing.

Of course, that still leaves the thorny issue of activist judges, who legislate from the bench, to be confronted. Legislatures cannot prevail with liberal judges waiting in the wings, intent on rewriting the people's wishes in the context of their own secularist-nihilist biases.