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Compassion is a small price to pay for peace. Where is it when our great nation preoccupies itself with intruding into the Schiavo family matter while genocide in Africa comes in wave after wave of violence and horror? And where is it when, after dawdling for two days on his ranch, Mr Bush says he is saddened that Trent Lott lost his mansion to Katrina. Our national compassion needs to be reordered and now is the time to do it. We take heart in the Court's opinion in the Schiavo case.

Brain dead was the doctor's opinion. Ever since her heart stopped in 1990 and led to extensive brain damage, Terri had been force-fed. Her husband said she would not want to continue in such a condition. Her parents believed otherwise. The case landed in the courts, the Florida courts. Decisions went back and forth, first one way, then another. A final decision last week sided with Terri's husband and the tube was removed.

With no court appeals left, (already heard by 19 judges, six courts, and with three Supreme Court rejections) her parents turned to Ken Conner, a Christian conservative trial lawyer and Dr Dave Weldon, a Florida medical doctor and Republican. Together, they put together an appeal to Congress with the help of Mel Martinez, a newly elected senator from Florida. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat from Iowa, swayed Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, to support the Conner/Weldon appeal. Congress then hurriedly passed the law with strong support from Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. President Bush hurried back to the White House to sign the measure. The measure basically asks the Federal Court in Florida to decide.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups from both sides of the issue waved their banners. Numerous lawyers and ex-judges offered their opinions. All agreed that what Congress did was most unusual. Some cited law and other arguments that questioned the very constitutionality of such a specific law. Others noted that Congress in effect was trying to intervene beyond its own constitutional boundaries. A national poll was taken with roughly two-thirds of those polled supporting the state court ruling to remove the tube.

Judge James Whitmore, chosen at random from the Federal bench, heard the case on Monday, 21 March 2005. Instead of ruling immediately after hearing arguments, he deferred ruling at all until he could think about it. The next day, he ruled, refusing to issue a restraining order.

Tom De Lay then issued the following statement:

"Congress explicitly provided Terri Schiavo's family recourse to federal court, and this decision is at odds with both the clear intent of Congress and the constitutional rights of a helpless young woman.

"Section two of the legislation we passed clearly requires the court determine 'de novo' the merits of the case -- or in layman's terms, it requires a completely new and full review of the case. Section three requires the judge to grant a temporary restraining order because he cannot fulfill his or her recognized duty to review the case 'de novo' without first keeping Terri Schiavo alive."

Republican Senator John Warner from Virginia was much more statesmanlike. Warner wrote:

"I believe it unwise for the Congress to take from the state of Florida its constitutional responsibility to resolve the issues in this case..." This bill, in effect, challenges the integrity and capabilities of the state courts in Florida."

And what about the individual, Terri's husband? Elizabeth Cohen, Birmingham Press & Sun-Bulletin, wrote about keeping faith with her father:

"...I could not help but imagine how violating and inappropriate it would have felt if politicians had weighed in on our decisions about daddy(deep in a Alzheimer's coma) last November. There are a number of people I would trust to make informed and humane decisions about my father; neither the president nor anyone in Congress is among them."

...When does saving a life mean stealing a death?"

Paul Campos (Scripps Howard News Service) further pointed out that Terri was bulimic (vomiting up a meal just eaten in order to stay thin). Being bulimic, Terri likely ran short of the minerals required to keep her heart beating. Bulimia is a symptom of a "fat" culture that glorifies slender and skinny. Parents are part of that culture. On that point, we do not fault anyone in particular. How could we?

But something went wrong up front--something no court of law can fix. Not only Hollywood, not only parents, schools and insurance companies, but medical journals too, tout the benefits of thinness. Young women are particularly vulnerable to being too thin. Now obesity is certainly not good for the spine, hips and leg joints, nor is it good for the cardiovascular system or diabetes. So we should all strive to have the proper fraction of fat on our bones, and not be extreme in either direction.

At the end of the day, however, the Terri Schiavo matter became an individual one, for her spouse. It should not have shaken a nation--especially not when the majority of that nation disagreed with the shakers.

Importantly, conservatives such as David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, agreed. He said: "For Congress to step in really is a violation of federalism."

Republicans are all for federalism--but only when it suits their purposes. Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor's Cut, put her finger on the issue:

"The real outrage here was the Republicans' decision to violate conservative ideals about states' rights, limited government, and the sanctity of marriage by muscling into the Terri Schiavo tragedy."

Who would have guessed that the Republicans, such deft and crafty politicians, would trip over their own conservative base in striving to satisfy the religious right. They had to have motives other than the will of the people.

Which brings us to the point of this editorial. In their fanaticism, two of the three arms of our national government, now under Republican control, are actively trying to subvert the court system. (Of course they were eminently successful in 2000, so why not do it up brown?)

Congress put a federal Judge, James Whitmore, on a spot where he would have to find great moral courage to deny the request for a restraining order. He found it and ruled quite properly in denying the restraining order. This was another most dangerous attempt to centralize power for purely political gain. These actions reflect the very reason why our founding fathers designed a constitution with checks and balances.

The Florida and National Supreme Courts turned down the last-ditch appeals by Terri's parents. There are social consequences sure to come. We can only wait and see how significant they turn out to be.

We are not constitutional experts, but history might view these results as just one more eroding brick in the walls of the latest Empire (if Jared Diamond has it right). We as a society are not now electing officials who have any ability to recognize and reexamine long-held "core values" that are out of step with the times.

What does this series of events mean to peace? It means we are now exhibiting a national hang-up, not sure where we are going. That, in retrospect and better late than never, simply reflects the behavior of our national leadership. Why? Well just consider:

As governor of Texas, George W. Bush not only oversaw a record number of executions, but also empowered hospitals to stop feeding vegetative patients who could not pay their bills.

Where was the media? This duplicity was in the public record? The media was intimidated because in the black and white world of the sociopath, revealing reality can bring swift retribution! For more on that, see the "Epilogue" to Bush On The Couch, by Justin A Frank, MD.

To the extent our media is silent, the First Amendment loses. And we lose, for the world now views America as a bit out of touch. For the unbelievers, compare how our media reports events with how European friends and the many others report the same events. Also look for what our media does not even touch on. It is often an eye opening. Only we, the voting electorate, can change this direction. We must do more than just kick the rascals out, we must close the door to any future team of rascals from foreclosing our rights altogether. No political party is immune from this danger.

Maybe that condition is to be expected when our president denies reality, for whatever complex reasons. Frank's book makes a compelling case. In his explorations of Bush's history, all public, he pieces together and expands on the origins of his traits that match those of sociopathy (See Martha Stout) and/or psychopathy, (See Robert Hare). To the extent Frank, Stout and Hare are right, our nation takes on such behavior.

Terri's cortex electroencephalogram was flat, no activity. Her failure to respond to her surroundings supported that. Four neurologists diagnosed her as brain dead after complete examinations. Two others, hired by parents or third parties, did cursory examinations and declared she was alive. The autopsy affirmed the electroencephalogram and diagnoses, Terri was indeed brain-dead.

Terri's parents had their due process and more; the "more" hurt our esteemed president and his congress politically.

Our ability to sustain life after a person no longer can respond is a positive and powerful medical feature of our times. But that very power raises critical questions. Imagine yourself, trapped in a bed with some awareness left but with no ability to communicate in any way, or even make eye contact. You might feel pain; you might feel terrors; you might want to die, but you cannot relay that information to a soul.

On the other hand, if you were Terri, you would have no consciousness at all.

Either way, what would you have a mind to do now?

  • create a living will?
  • vote for leaders who can move with the times, not play cheap politics?
  • join the Terri Schiavos?

It is up to you.


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