Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Write your living wills NOW...

Wonderful. Now the GOP is exploiting a family's tragedy in order to overturn court decisions from behind their desks in Washington whenever they disagree with them. This is beyond grotesque, especially considering that in 1999, here in Texas, Gov. Bush signed into law an insurance industry-drafted piece of legislation that allows hospitals the right to pull the plug on you, EVEN IF YOU ARE STILL COMPLETELY CONSCIOUS AND AWARE, if you could no longer pay and there was no hope (as determined by the hospital and insurance co.) of revival. Oh, and your family has no say in the matter. So if a perfectly conscious woman in an iron lung were to lose her health insurance in Texas and couldn't get anyone else to insure her, the hospital would be within its rights to pull the plug, no matter what her family said. The law does say that you're allowed to plead your case at the conferences between the hospital and insurance reps that will decide your fate, however. How thoughtful! The Texas Futile Care Law has been used frequently over the past five years to force people off life support here. Impoverished minorities and the elderly, mostly. And, whadayaknow? No prayer vigils, no media circus, certainly no Republicans attempting to dismantle the separation of powers by ramrodding through unconstitutional legislation. Nada. There wasn't the slightest fuss when the Texas Futile Care Law was passed, either. So what's the deal? As Mark A.R. Kleiman said. "If you think Terri Schiavo is being murdered, you think that George W. Bush signed a bill allowing murder in 1999, and that bill is still on the books. Perhaps Mr. Bush flew to the wrong capital on Sunday; some people in Austin seem to need instruction about the "presumption in favor of life."" This situation would have been much easier for the Schiavos if they had lived in Texas. Even easier than that if they were minorities.

Let's face facts. Terri Schiavo is not going to recover. Medical consensus is that she is in a persistent vegetative state and there is no chance of recovery. Her brain has, at this point, deteriorated to the point where she's less aware of the world around her than a goldfish. Says Dr. Richard Demme, head of the ethics committee at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, a persistent vegetative state "means the lower part of the brain that tells her lungs to breathe is still intact. But it doesn't mean she has any thoughts or the ability to experience anything. Her brain is pretty much full of fluid. Barring some miracle, she will never get any better than she is now. There is nothing in medicine we know of that will make her able to think or experience again. To suggest there are medical therapies that can help her - that all she needs is tender loving care and she will be romping in the back yard again - is cruel." Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, who is Terri's legal guardian, who spent six years getting the best possible care for his wife in the hope she might recover before finally facing the horrible truth, has also had the privilege to be publicly slandered by Tom DeLay (slander which, considering the source, I hope Michael wears like a badge of honor). The courts have been on Michael Schiavo's side, over and over again, because clear evidence indicates that Terri would not want to have been kept on life support if she was in a vegetative state and that her parents' hopes for her recovery are absolutely groundless. In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday, Michael Schiavo invited both Jeb and George W. to visit his wife in the hospital, at least once. This will never happen. "Come talk to me.', he said. "Meet my wife. Talk to my wife and see if you get an answer. Ask her to lift her arm to shake your hand. She won't do it." Because she can't. As for Michael's motivations, I've heard nothing but innuendo and hearsay. And I really have my doubts about how much trust fund money is going to be left after the legal fees and the staggering cost of keeping Terri alive for the past fifteen years.

The naked hypocrisy displayed in this case is astounding. The GOP has been no friend to the public at all on issues like poverty, disease, and education, but give them an opportunity to use a woman in a vegetative coma as a way to prove their devotion to humanity and they're all over it. I find it remarkable that those who are championing keeping Terri Schiavo "alive" are also those people who champion the gutting of Medicare, stripping you of your right to sue for malpractice, endless bloody war, the legalization of torture, and the denial of universal health care as a basic human right. But it's not about consistency with the GOP. It's about making political hay. And shame on cowardly Democrats like Senator Reid who play along with this ghoulish political theater.

But at least in this instance, it appears as if the GOP has overreached. AP 3/21/05: "According to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 909 adults taken over the weekend, nearly six in 10 people said they think the feeding tube should be removed and felt they would want to remove it for a child or spouse in the same condition." The problem with the Schiavo case is that, unlike war or poverty, too many people can sympathize. Most of us don't want to be kept alive in a vegetative coma or be forced to keep a loved one alive in that condition. And when the truth about Congress's lunatic "emergency legislation" finally filters out, I hope there's hell to pay.


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