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March 17, 2005
Is Terri The Next Elian?

As I drove home today, I spent a while thinking about Terri Schiavo, who faces death by starvation and dehydration by court order unless either Congress or the Florida state legislature intervenes in time. A parallel sprang to mind, one that I don't know that I've seen before -- but it seems to me that Terri has become the new Elian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, as most will recall, was a small boy rescued from the seas that claimed his mother as the two of them fled Fidel Castro's oppressive regime. Since his mother died, he had no obvious guardian to make decisions for his welfare, only some extended family living in Florida. The helplessness of the little boy grabbed the nation's imagination, and when the Cuban government demanded the return of Elian to his father in Cuba, Americans divided passionately on the subject.

One side could not imagine the government -- the federal government -- returning a little boy to the Communist regime and argued that the willingness of his extended family to care for him gave Elian a better chance at a good life. Others demanded that the wishes of his next of kin be honored, even if that meant Elian would grow up in poverty and oppression. People argued endlessly and accusations about the motives of all concerned flew faster than a Florida hurricane. In the end, the courts kept ruling that the next of kin's wishes overruled the opportunity of Elian to grow up in freedom, and the Department of Justice took Elian away by force in a disgraceful show of force that embarassed everyone on all sides of the debate. The US government packed him off to Fidel shortly afterwards.

This case may not be an exact analogy, but it comes close. Terri cannot make the decision for herself, and the two families have essentially taken mutually exclusive positions. The court has weighed in to take the extreme position, the one that cannot be reversed if carried out in full, despite the existence of other family members willing to take care of her. Despite pleas for mercy and a rehearing on the factual basis of the case, as it turns out that Terri did not have the proper tests done to reach the diagnosis accepted by the court, the judge has essentially closed off the debate and appellate courts don't usually take up findings of fact, only matters of procedure. Just as with Elian, when the government abdicated its responsibility to determine what was best in favor of the knee-jerk reaction to abide by the wishes of the next of kin, the Florida court appears ready to do the same thing with Terri.

And it will lead to an even more shameless denouement: the starvation of a helpless woman under the eyes of two parents who desperately want her to live, which may take as long as two weeks to kill her.

Perhaps it may just be me, but this sense of deja-vu became almost inescapable for me. I don't think it's necessary to get into the various accusations flying around about the Schiavos and the Schindlers, some of which can be found in the comments of my posts on this subject, to see that any process that ends with that kind of resolution is inherently flawed. Handing a four-year-old boy back to Fidel after his mother sacrified her life to get him out of Cuba's nightmare may have satisfied some arcanity in the law but defied justice. Following the wishes of Terri's next of kin may meet the Florida legal code, but starving her of food and water expressly to kill her while others beg to support her defies all reason, especially given the information we read yesterday in National Review.

Can we be this heartless ... twice?

UPDATE: It's looking poorly for Terri, as Congress stalemated on two different bills:

A brain-damaged Florida woman at the heart of a prolonged and emotional end-of-life case appeared set to have her feeding tube removed on Friday after state and federal lawmakers failed to agree on how to intervene and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to step in.

The House late Wednesday night and the Senate on Thursday passed legislation aimed at prolonging the life of Terri Schiavo, 41, by allowing federal courts to review the case. Such cases have traditionally been the province of state courts, state legislatures and families.

The two bills were vastly different in scope and the day ended with harsh political recrimination instead of compromise on the fate of Schiavo, who has been fed through a tube since she suffered a heart attack in 1990.

I could see that result coming a mile away, as soon as the Senate dropped the House bill and concentrated of the Martinez bill instead. With the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case, the last hope will be the Florida Senate tomorrow morning.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 17, 2005 7:33 PM

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» My Take On Some Things. . . from Rightly Biased
There's a good post over at Captain's Quarters on the Schiavo matter. There was a little bit about this in my local rag today, and one thing caught my eye:... [Read More]

Tracked on March 17, 2005 10:32 PM

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