Schiavo fallout

Schiavo fallout

: As Congress and the President rushed into their exploitation of Terri Schiavo, they set off a bomb that will have considerable fallout, I think:

: Without incredibly explicit instructions directly from the patient — and even with explicit instructions from the spouse or guardian — I can see doctors and hospitals refusing to take people off life-support for fear that some family member can come forward and start suing.

: Not that moneyu should be a factor in matters of life and death — though, of course, it is in the insurance industry — but we are going to end up with who-knows-how-many-more vegetative patients who will be kept alive out of fear of litigation and the high cost of maintaining them will fall to the people through insurance and taxes.

: We now have the federal government — and not just the federal goverment but both houses of Congress and the President himself — inserting themselves into an individual medical, legal, family dispute. Watch the avalanche of individual cases that will now fall upon Washington: You did it for Terri, why not for my cousin?

: The Republicans set some odd precedents in matters of state’s rights and government interference in individuals’ lives that may come back to haunt them.

: You can bet there will be attempts to extend what happened last night as a principle of life into the debate over abortion.

: You can bet you will not see attempts to extend this principle into the debate over the death penalty, however.

: You will see Terri Schiavo continue to be used as a political hostage as any Democrat who dared question the wisdom and legality of this action will be accused by opponents in the next election as being against life.

What else?

This is not the result of deliberative government and the rule of law. This is the result of the fog of media and cynical politics.

: MORE: I also believe that this will have an indirect impact on the issues surrounding right-to-die and euthenasia. I do agree that starving a person to death — or choking them by withdrawing a resperator — is potentially cruel (the arguments about whether a person without a brain feels pain are, of course, inconclusive). I would be scared of agreeing to die that way. But if I were eased into death with drugs, that might be a different matter. [Note to the future: Do not take this as my living will. I'm not sure yet.] But to ease me into death with drugs — in other words, to kill me with medication — is illegal in all states but Oregon. And so we are forced to choose what certainly seems to be a crueler means of ending life. It’s not wrong to draw the parallel many have (one commenter on this post, one blogger I quoted on MSNBC last week) to death-penalty treatment: We also cannot be sure whether they suffer (there is debate about that) but even if they do, it is for a far, far shorter time than starving someone to death or choking them (which is terribly frightening to me). So more fallout of this case — quite unintended by those who set off the bomb — could be more liberalization of laws regarding medically assisted death. Or put it this way: If I wrote my living will with explicit instructions [again: I'm not going that yet] saying that I would want life support removed but only with sufficient narcotics to cause death, what would doctors and courts do then?

: Joshua Claybourn discusses the constitutionality of the legislation just signed. Here’s a link to the Senate bill. See also Joe Gandelman’s analysis of the politics.

  • http://michaelzimmer.blogspot.com/ Michael Zimmer

    Doug Rushkoff pointed out the key precendent in this issue: “President Bush has, for the very first time in is entire presidency, cut his vacation short in order to return to the White House and sign an arguably unconstitutional bill”

  • http://www.conservativefriends.com Drew

    As I understand it, the bill only has any effect when there is no written directive. Want to be sure? Write it down.

  • http://michaelzimmer.blogspot.com/ Michael Zimmer

    Jeff – can you explain what role you feel the media (their “fog”) played in this latest development.

  • richard mcenroe

    Jeff, excuse me, but while I have this vague sense I might be slightly more conservative than some folks here, I think I was also the only one who suggested Terry Schiavo was entitled to the same treatment we would and do give condemned murderers.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Michael: They were playing to the publicity.
    Richard: I quoted just that sentiment on MSNBC and in a post below.

  • richard mcenroe

    So you know good material *g*.
    But seriously, if this is a matter of strong enough principle, what prevents a Democrat ó or any politician ó from doing just that, applying this principle to the argument on the death penalty?

  • http://www.drcookie.blogspot.com JennyD

    Jeff, two things:
    First, in your previous post you said agree with “liberal” bloggers who support her husband’s decision. Please don’t lump all liberal and conservatives into these camps. You contribute to the fog when you do. There are people with many beliefs who fall all over the place on this issue, and others.
    Second, money is indeed part of the consideration of life and death. In a world with limited resources for healthcare, how do you justify spending millions of dollars on people whose brains are beyond hope, and denying children in poverty vaccines and basic healthcare?
    I still want to know who exactly is paying Terri Schiavo’s nursing home bill each month. At $10K per month, for 15 years, she ran out of insurance a long time ago. I have a hunch it’s the government….which means us.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    richard: see also the note i just added to the post (which, frankly, i meant to include originally but forgot until you reminded me… thanks).

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Jenny:
    Perhaps poorly worded but what i was trying to say was that i agreed with the bloggers i was citing who were liberal; wasn’t trying to lump all in together and, in fact, on the segment itself i made that point: this is influenced not just by politics but also by religion and, clearly, personal beliefs.

  • harry

    I cannot for the life of me understand how fundamentalist Christians can possibly support Terry’s parents no matter what the merits of the case. The Bible is explicit on this point, the apostle Paul said: “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband” (1 Corinthians 7:4). This is fundamental to the Christian understanding of marriage. Terry’s husband may be wrong, but according to the Bible it must be his decision and his alone. If the US Congress attempts to give to parents the rights over a daughter they have already given away than they are doing far more damage to the Christian understanding of marriage than any gay-rights advocate.

  • http://michaelzimmer.blogspot.com/ Michael Zimmer

    This is fundamental to the Christian understanding of marriage.
    Fundamental to some Christian understandings of marriage. Not all Christians take each particular line in the Bible quite so literally.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Amen.

  • richard mcenroe

    Jeff ó And let’s keep in mind, the government has been involved in this case ever since Michael Schiavo took it to the court rather than risk being accountable for his own decision.
    One thing I would like to see come out of this is a serious investigation of the courts that handle these guardianship cases. I don’t know how things are up in your neck of the woods, but down here in LA they are a notoriously corrupt and unregulated old-boys-club of a tight little circle of lawyers and judges who use the dead, elderly and incapable as their own checkbook. There were some exposes on this in the 90′s, mostly in New Times, but nothing was ever done about it.
    BTW, good thing you added that Note to the Future caveat. Otherwise, in Florida, that would be enough to get you killed. I take it you’re thinking of retiring to Arizona?

  • Franky

    To even look for principles or ethics in this case is like looking for a philosopher in a herd of pigs. This whole spectacle has been unbelievably cynical, with the Republicans offering a sop to the fundamentalist Right. Of course the low-IQ democrats got caught in exactly the trap that was laid for them. I genuinely didn’t think I could have had more contempt for our political class and then this little circus begins. I guess, I live and learn.

  • http://michaelzimmer.blogspot.com/ Michael Zimmer

    Between this and gay marriage, is the principle of federalism now dead in the GOP?

  • Franky

    Federalism usually supported by those without power and quickly abandoned when in power.

  • http://liesandstatistics.blogspot.com Shinobi

    She is in a hospital, I’m sure they have all kinds of drugs (morphine anyone?) to make sure that she is comfortable to the bitter end. I know the idea of starving to death is horrifying but they will do everything they can to make her comfortable.
    And then which is more painful, a slow death or another 15 years of barely living? I don’t know, and fortunately it is not my decision to make, it was her husband’s who is the closest living relative and now apparently it is Congress’s decision. (I hope the federal court agrees with previous decisions if only to put congress in their place)
    It makes me sad and angry that Jeb Bush and Congress have turned this woman’s suffering into an avenue for political grandstanding. Poor Terri.

  • http://michaelzimmer.blogspot.com/ Michael Zimmer

    This NYT article discusses how ending feeding can lead to a “gentle death.”

  • http://www.lesjones.com Les Jones

    Gentle death, my eye. Read this account of a woman who was in persistent vegetative state like Terri for 13 years, and who had her feeding tube withdrawn for eight days:
    “The agony of going without food was a constant pain that lasted not several hours like my operation did, but several days. You have to endure the physical pain and on top of that you have to endure the emotional pain. Your whole body cries out, “Feed me. I am alive and a person, don’t let me die, for Godís Sake! Somebody feed me.”
    Terri Schiavo is not brain dead. She does not require a ventilator to breath. She’s been able to say a limited number of words over the years, and her nurses have testified to that.
    Worst case scenario is that she’s in a nightmare scenario in which she knows exactly what’s happening to her, and is unable to stop it.
    Shinobi: she will not be given drugs to reduce the pain. Even with a living will (which Terri does not have), you have to specify that pain-reducing drugs be given. When I helped my mother get her living will, we had to specify that the medical staff could wet her mouth so that it wouldn’t crack after she stopped receiving fluid.

  • Jay Sennett

    Jeff,
    “The Republicans set some odd precedents in matters of state’s rights and government interference in individuals’ lives that may come back to haunt them.”
    Interfering that is only new for this situation. The government has been noodling around in individual lives since slavery (when slaves could not legally marry) and with states’ rights when it comes to gay marriage.
    Bush and the Republicans (and some Democrats) aren’t doing anything new…just different.
    Regards.

  • Tony

    From Hullabaloo:
    “Mrs. Schiavo’s life is not slipping away – it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act of medical terrorism,” [Tom] DeLay [of Texas] said. “Mr. Schiavo’s attorney’s characterization of the premeditated starvation and dehydration of a helpless woman as ‘her dying process’ is as disturbing as it is unacceptable. What is happening to her is not compassion – it is homicide. She doesn’t need to die, and as long as Terri Schiavo can breathe and her supporters can pray, we will not rest.”
    By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient’s family’s wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother’s wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.
    Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.
    Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo’s care thus far.
    Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schiavo’s because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.
    And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.
    Those who don’t read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is “stepping in to save Terry Schiavo” mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.
    This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the “family”, the congress and the church against this woman’s husband and the judicial system that upheld Terry Schiavo’s right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.
    This issue gets to the essence of the culture war. Shall the state be allowed to interfere in the most delicate, complicated personal matters of life, death and health because a particular religious constituency holds that their belief system should override each individual’s right to make these personal decisions for him or herself. And it isn’t the allegedly statist/communist/socia1ist left that is agitating for the government to tell Americans how they must live and how they must die.
    One of the things that we need to help America understand is that there is a big difference between the way the two parties perceive the role of government in its citizens personal lives. Democrats want the government to collect money from all its citizens in order to deliver services to the people. The Republicans want the government to collect money from working people in order to dictate individual citizen’s personal decisions. You tell me which is the bigger intrusion into the average American’s liberty?

  • http://www.perrspectives.com Jon

    I’d like to add two points:
    1. A thorough discussion of the strong moral arguments in favor of honoring Terri Schiavo’s request to her husband has been completely missing in the media. For my take, see:
    “Schiavo, Mill and the Culture of Living”
    2. There has been virtually no coverage of the hypocrisy of the President, Tom Delay and his supporters. In 1999, Governor Bush signed the Texas Futile Care Law, which only last week allowed a Texas hospital to remove lfe support from a terminally ill 6-month old over his mother’s objections.
    For details, see Mark Kleiman’s blog:
    “Schiavo, Hudson and Nikolouzos”

  • alcibiades

    Harry, your argument is absurd and it is clear you know nothing about biblical exegesis. You wrote:
    The Bible is explicit on this point, the apostle Paul said: “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband” (1 Corinthians 7:4)
    By your “reading” of the text, what’s to stop a husband beating his wife to death? Surely he has the power of life and death over her? Nothing.
    Fortunately, you can’t take every single verse and interpret it literally and without any legal and historical context. That just reveals your ignorance and contempt for the precedent system of biblical law.
    Since I have seen this pop up in a few places, I’m sure it is just some ill-informed meme being repeated on left wing blogs. Wagging their fingers at the right, as though they have something really clever to say.
    Needless to say, it reads the opposite way altogether.

  • alcibiades

    Jon made the point:
    2. There has been virtually no coverage of the hypocrisy of the President, Tom Delay and his supporters. In 1999, Governor Bush signed the Texas Futile Care Law, which only last week allowed a Texas hospital to remove lfe support from a terminally ill 6-month old over his mother’s objections.
    Well that looks damning enough, although there appears to be some historical context to this as well. Over on The Corner, KJLopez has answered this charge, providing background that explains this was a compromise vote, the best he could do in the circumstances, but was not all that he wanted. However, he signed it into law since it was better than what existed.

  • Franky

    alcibiades,
    surely your argument confirms the theory that the bible should not be used as a foundation of law. What annoys liberals is that much of the right’s arguments are cherry-picking from the bible, taking quotes that support their pragmatic policies and ignoring the rest (for perfect example, see discussion of homosexual marriage). Either we take the bible at its word and live in accordance with all of it, or we reject it as the basis of our legal system.

  • Noreen

    It doesn’t sound as if those who are trying to keep Terri Shiavo’s body alive have ever had to face the awful decision to stop artificial life support for a family member.
    Believe me, it is much easier to pretend that the person you love so much is going to get better than to let her go to God in peace. Looking back we held onto our mother’s body too long, while her soul was struggling to be with God. We insisted that she be “shocked” back to life when her heart stopped, until the veins in her wasted body could no longer be used for the intravenous lines pumping drugs into her.
    We couldn’t face the devastating hole in our lives that her loss would leave. Until we decided that she was suffering at our hands with the medical intervention we ordered, my sisters and I had to let her go to God in peace.
    Mrs. Shiavo’s brain stem is all but destroyed, so she is physically unable to think or respond to stimuli. On those exploitative videos, I see a tortured body being kept alive through a tube inserted into a hole in her stomach.
    This is a private family tragedy that has dragged through the courts for 7 years. Let her go to God now.

  • Tim FG

    Fundamental to some Christian understandings of marriage. Not all Christians take each particular line in the Bible quite so literally.
    Where did this come from? I can’t believe you took it as it should be the fundamentalist Christian position especially when Christians are opposed to the death warrant of Terri.
    This is a straw man argument that attempts to call Christian fundamentalists hypocrites when their public position is consistently pro-life. The argument tries to make the case that they are hypocrites by (1) not following the literal Bible, while (2) following the literal Bible on “Thou shalt not kill”.
    Since some people are so hung on the literal Bible, is Terri’s husband an adulterer, thus not the husband anymore? This would be my argument against him having any decision on her care.
    Let’s cut through the bull. Despite all other baggage, legal or moral or religious, the sustaining of life should be the most important perogative. It is American to respect life.
    Even with a Living Will, it should be clear that the persistent vegetative state is not a terminal condition. The feed tube is not extraordinary care. She deserves to live.

  • James

    alcibiades stated re: the Corinthians thing:
    Since I have seen this pop up in a few places, I’m sure it is just some ill-informed meme being repeated on left wing blogs. Wagging their fingers at the right, as though they have something really clever to say.
    I seriously doubt that. Don’t start blaming this on “left-wing” bloggers trying to be snippy without your being able to back it up.

  • http://dalythoughts.com Gerry

    Jeff,
    I just blogged a question for you. I’ll ask it here, too.
    You wrote: “I also believe that this will have an indirect impact on the issues surrounding right-to-die and euthenasia. I do agree that starving a person to death ñ or choking them by withdrawing a resperator ñ is potentially cruel (the arguments about whether a person without a brain feels pain are, of course, inconclusive). I would be scared of agreeing to die that way. But if I were eased into death with drugs, that might be a different matter. [Note to the future: Do not take this as my living will. Iím not sure yet.]”
    Letís imagine that you were incapacitated to where such a living will would come into play. Letís imagine that someone who would benefit financially tremendously from your death testified that you had, subsequent to writing that post, told him that you decided that you had made up your mind and would want to be put to death in those circumstances. Letís imagine there was nothing in writing, and that there were no witnesses to corroborate that personís account. And letís imagine that the rest of your family was fighting tooth and nail to save you.
    What then?

  • James

    Frank, et al:
    Either we take the bible at its word and live in accordance with all of it, or we reject it as the basis of our legal system.
    Can’t we just use the Bible, Koran, etc… as a source of moral outlook on this case (and others), without having to take religion for either nothing or the basis of outur legal system?
    I’m against Jeb & George wanting to block the Court’s decision, a Presbyterian elder, and almost as lefty as you can get.

  • James

    Tim:
    This is a straw man argument that attempts to call Christian fundamentalists hypocrites when their public position is consistently pro-life.

    Let’s cut through the bull. Despite all other baggage, legal or moral or religious, the sustaining of life should be the most important perogative. It is American to respect life.
    How can Christian fundamentalists reconcile this deep respect for life with an overwhelming support for the death penalty?
    If anything worthwhile comes out of this current debacle, it will hopefully be to bring this contradiction to the forefront…

  • Tim FG

    If anything worthwhile comes out of this current debacle, it will hopefully be to bring this contradiction to the forefront…
    There is no contradiction, but the debate on the
    death penalty is not the off-topic.
    Funny thing, the leftist Gloria Alred, the Amber Frey lawyer, is FOR the Scott Peterson death penalty. Who would have known?

  • plunge

    “Read this account of a woman who was in persistent vegetative state like Terri for 13 years, and who had her feeding tube withdrawn for eight days:”
    The idea that a woman who can think and speak is “like Terri” is patently absurd. This woman had a stroke: minor damage to just a few parts of her brain. She became locked in. Terri, on the other hand, had massive deprivation to all her brain tissues. Her cerebral cortex has wasted away, not recovered.
    The lies continue unabated.

  • http://www.publiuspundit.com Robert Mayer

    Well, there’s a reason they’re called the National GOP and National Democratic Party. They’re self-serving lowlifes. They don’t care about state rights and small federal goverment — neither of them do. When it comes to choosing to fight the federal government, the very institution they work for, congressmen will always err to keeping their jobs.
    And strangely enough, this goes to McCain-Feingold and the regulation of soft money flow to state parties. Heh. Excuse me while I throw up.

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    “This NYT article discusses how ending feeding can lead to a “gentle death.”"
    That article is so dishonest. It talks about terminally ill patients, whose bodies do shut down and eating and drinking is actually uncomfortable for them. I have seen this with several relatives who died of cancer. Terri Schiavo is physically healthy and would eat solid food if she could. He body is not shutting down. She feels pain. She would react to starvation just as you would.

  • http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/ Yehudit

    “Doug Rushkoff pointed out the key precendent in this issue”
    That sounds like a typical posturing snarky Rushkoff thing to say. That man is so juvenile.