For those who are interested in a reasonable attempt to look at the reality of the Terri Schiavo case, Matt Conigliaro has an amazingly detailed information page, including a list of questions and answers that demonstrates how reductionist the media coverage (and Congressional “inquiry”) has become. Conigliaro is an appellate lawyer and has run a website for over two years focused on Florida law, and his coverage of the case over that time period has led to (relatively ridiculous) accusations of bias from both sides of the ostensible debate. Reading his numerous posts, it’s hard to see that bias; instead, he seems to be a good legal analyst, and very empathetic to both positions in what is fundamentally an emotionally wrenching debate however you look at it.
After reading Conigliaro’s chronology and Q&A section, I’m left with the understanding that every single court that has held a hearing has concluded that Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state and that there is clear and convincing evidence — the strongest burden of proof available in civil cases — that she would have wished removal of life support measures. This determination was based on more than just evidence from reports of conversations with her husband, as well, something that’s not mentioned too much in media reports of the conflict. I’m also left with the realization that every attempt to subvert the ultimate court rulings have come from the realm of politics — initially, Terri’s Law, and now, a farcical consensus bill from the U.S. Congress, something that manages to be both unsurprising and terrifying at the same time.
What I’ve been confused about — and while slightly less so, remain confused about — is what the law being rushed through Congress right now aims to do. It seems from reports that it’s a case-specific law, allowing Federal judicial review of the state court rulings in Schiavo’s case; what I don’t understand is how there’s some idea that this will lead to a different outcome. As I understand it, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has denied every appeal and dismissed every case brought by those who have tried to overturn the rulings of the Florida courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to intervene, once in January and once yesterday. So we now seem to have have what might be well less than a majority of our Congressmen (since it only takes a majority of present legislators, not of all legislators, to pass a law) furiously posturing, and the President himself returning to Washington, D.C. early, all in the name of likely having no effect on the ultimate outcome whatsoever.
In the end, it seems that most everyone agrees on the right for people to create formal living wills that spell out how we wish to be treated in the case of tragedies like this. In Schiavo’s case, there isn’t a written living will, but every level of court available for recourse has determined her wishes in a manner that is as legally binding as a living will would have been. In spite of this, we now have the highest elected body of legislators in the country acting to force an entirely different set of wishes. What gives them the right? What would prevent Congress — or any elected body — from acting similarly even if a formal living will existed? Therein lies the real horror of the Schiavo case; apparently, it’s one more way that some seem willing to let the lawmakers of this country intrude on the private debates and decisions of its citizens.