Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Congress hits a low in Schiavo debacle

Shame on the Republicans. How low will they go?

As it happens I was in Miami over the weekend as the tragic Schiavo case played out. I can tell you first hand that in Florida, on the street and in the papers, the sentiment is that Republicans are using this personal tragedy for political gain in the most disgusting way, trampling state rights, overstepping their constitutional authority, and pandering to a minority of ultra conservative religious right leaders who know nothing about the families involved. Is this still the United States, where we abide by democratic laws, or do we now live under the rule of the Republican Taliban? -IFK Editor

Congress hits a low in Schiavo debacle

I don't blame anyone for being anguished over Terri Schiavo's case. But I am appalled at Congress for cynically capitalizing on it. Most horrifying of all was the disgraced and disgraceful Tom DeLay, whose mind-boggling address to a conservative family forum in Washington on Friday set the stage for Congress' Palm Sunday stampede of state's rights and the rule of law. A tape recording of it was obtained by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," the House Republican leader from Texas was heard to say.

DeLay, whose own legislative career may soon be on life support pending the continued investigation of his alleged ethical transgressions, unbelievably managed to insinuate his political plight into the suffering of Ms. Schiavo. "This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," he said.

Do DeLay's delusions of political persecution really go that far? A conservative on the cross? Maybe someone should mention to Mr. DeLay this isn't about him.

And does Illinois' own Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, let this all play out without a single expression of misgiving about the misuse of Congress in an issue that properly belongs to state courts?

One of the great tragedies for Terri Schiavo's family is that it had to go to court at all. But that happens sometimes in families.

As I think of it, I guess it could have happened in mine.

My father, years before he became ill, used to half-jokingly, half-seriously say, "Don't ever let anyone hook me up to some damn machine if I'm too sick to stop it. Step on the hose. Pull the plug."

If he said it once, he said it a hundred times. The problem was he would never write it down.

In September of 1989, my dad was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit of Evanston Hospital. His internist arrived after consulting with the heart specialist, the kidney man, the pulmonary expert and the neurologist. Every one of my dad's organs, it seemed, had its own doctor. And the doctors weren't all on the same page. The cardiologist said he could keep my dad's heart pumping for days, maybe weeks. The kidney man thought that part of his body was about to fail. Almost everything was shutting down, including my father's once-fine mind after a succession of little strokes. His eyes were closed, there was a tube down his throat, and we knew he wanted us, in his not-so-gentle words, to "step on the hose."

We were lucky. Heartbroken but united, my mother and sister and I were able to speak with one voice.

Another family, equally united, may have made an entirely different decision than we did. I honor and respect the differences among us.

But what happened in Washington this weekend deserves neither honor nor respect. It was a raw grab at a personal tragedy for political gain. Seven years and at least 17 state courtrooms have not produced a single dissenting judgement. Terri Schiavo, it has been ruled again and again, has the right to die as asserted by her husband and no chance of recovery if she continues to live.

This is not meant, in any way, as a criticism of her parents. If I were in their place, and if I believed as they believe, then I would do what they are doing.

But Congress? That's a different story.

Washington, it's clear, is a place where Republicans run scared of the religious right and Democrats just play dead.

To blatantly disregard and disrespect the considered rulings of state courts, to pass 11th hour legislation that allows one single, wrenching case to be re-done in federal courts, and to invoke due process when the real motive is to just delay is beyond shameful. Do the administration and those who agree with it only consider the work of state courts when they agree with them? Do they only believe in state's rights when they decide a state is right?

If that's the case, Congress, I guess, is just for the convenience of the moment and the clamor of the crowd.


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