Politics at Terri’s expense

By Elie Dvorin

The remaining moments of Terri Schiavo’s life have become nothing short of a three-ring circus, with almost every player in the ordeal using Terri as a political pawn for his or her own personal gain. One cannot possibly blame the family for wanting to keep her alive, even though I, and most Americans, believe that removing the feeding tube is the humane thing to do for a person in her condition. Outside of her family, however, there is much blame to go around for politicizing this tragedy, and it starts in Congress.

The House passed a bill late Sunday night that transferred the jurisdiction of the Schiavo case from a state court to a U.S. district court for a federal judge to review. President Bush immediately signed the bill, upon a return to the White House from his ranch in Texas. This bill never should have been introduced, nor should it have been signed. Even though a strong case can be made for the constitutionality of this bill, it is ethically very questionable and sets a dangerous and hypocritical precedent.

The government is treading in murky water when it becomes actively involved in family decisions, such as the choice to remove a loved one from life support. What makes this case even more political is the fact that this bill refers only to the Schiavo case in particular. It has no universal application to all people in vegetative states or similar conditions. The media picked up on this case, ran with it, and Congress spent a large block of time and energy getting face time on TV instead of formulating and debating a euthanasia policy that could benefit all Americans.

The Republican push for this bill is hypocritical at best. The same Republicans who have been attacking the Democrats’ filibuster of Bush’s nominees and whining about activist judges who legislate from the bench, just gave the federal judiciary more power. The same Republicans who detest a large and powerful federal government and promote states’ rights, just stripped an important case from state court and threw it into federal court for political reasons. Apparently, principle can be quickly ditched for reasons of political expediency.

As usual, the Democrats in Congress showed no backbone in standing up for their position. Every Senate Democrat joined with the Republicans in passing the Senate version of this bill unanimously. In the House, 47 Democrats joined the Republicans, to make that passage easy as well. In this case, the House Democrats that opposed the bill were in the right and on the side of the American people. A recent ABC poll showed that 70 percent of Americans opposed government involvement in this case, and 67 percent believed that politicians were using this case for personal gain. This could have been the Democrats’ chance to throw some weight around on the values debate, an area that the Republicans seem to have used to connect to the American people. Unfortunately for them, a great opportunity was missed to make a real statement, as issues of euthanasia can potentially affect more people than issues like gay marriage or abortion.

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The Florida state legislature has been constantly undermining the judiciary as well. Since the media has picked up on this case, the legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush have been trying to personally seal the fate of Terri Schiavo by passing legislation and executive orders that would keep her feeding tube attached. Any intervention in this decision is dangerous, whether at the state level or federal level.

From personal accounts, it appears that Terri Schiavo was a quiet, non-confrontational person. It appears very unlikely that she would have wanted to be the poster boy for the “right to life” movement. But personal wishes and personal freedoms, like the freedom to die in peace, are ignored when everyone is looking to gain something from your situation. In this case, the pro-lifers are making a political statement at the expense of Mrs. Schiavo. And other than the judges ruling in the case and appeals, it appears nobody is going to call them on it.

Elie Dvorin is a junior in LAS. His column runs every Monday. He can be reached at [email protected].