The Politics of Death

The New York Times has an article about Terri Schiavo today, which focuses almost exclusively on the political context of the Congressional effort to prevent her from being starved to death:

The fevered Congressional intervention in a single individual’s health crisis is being driven in significant part by powerful political forces that have converged at the bedside of Terri Schiavo.

That euphemistic reference to a “single individual’s health crisis” is one of several odd turns of phrase in the article, which postures the controversy largely as an effort by Tom DeLay to divert attention from a non-existent scandal involving “House travel rules.” A video companion to the article describes this as a “right-to-die case,” which is not exactly how her family perceives it. And this quote from Mr. Schiavo’s lawyer strikes me as grotesque:

[George Felos] had a warning for Democrats who would deign to veer from longstanding opposition to federal intrusion in such intimate medical decisions: “If they don’t stand up for Terri Schiavo, they deserve to be the minority party.”

“Stand up for” her, indeed. And the “intimate medical decision” at issue was made by a judge. What I really want to comment on, though, is this: the Times acknowledges, but does not dwell on, the fact that Democrats see political advantage in not obstructing the effort to save Terri Schiavo’s life:

Democrats quickly recognized they had a political stake in this as well, particularly with a handful of Senate seats coming open in states won by President Bush last year, including Florida.

But neither the Times nor any other source that I’ve seen makes explicit what seems to me to be the overriding political reality: If Terri Schiavo slowly starves to death over the next ten days–she would probably expire on or about Easter Sunday–in full view, and with the world’s attention focused increasingly on her as her end nears, the political ramifications for the Democrats, should they use their political power to ensure her starvation, would be devastating. It could recast the whole “life” issue, on which the Democrats’ stand has been that party’s most deeply held belief. So it is no surprise that only a few Democrats have been willing to openly oppose the Republicans’ effort to save Mrs. Schiavo’s life.
I, personally, am not happy with the procedural aspects of this controversy. I don’t like to see Congress intervening in what should be a matter for, at last resort, a state court. But this strikes me as the ultimate illustration of the ancient adage that hard cases make bad law. The facts here are appalling. So it is no surprise that Senators and Congressmen feel that if they have the power to prevent Mrs. Schiavo’s death, they should use it.
UPDATE: I missed it yesterday, but Andrew McCarthy has an excellent rebuttal to the Washington Post’s editorial on the Schiavo case on National Review Online.

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