Schiavo: The readers vent

Salon readers express outrage at this "appalling" and "grotesque" case of "political opportunism" -- with a few dissenters.

By Salon Staff
Published March 22, 2005 7:31PM (EST)

[Read "The Panderers," by Alan Wolfe, "This Has Nothing to Do With the Sanctity of Life," by Andrew Leonard, and "When Public Opinion Doesn't Matter," by Eric Boehlert.]

II Corinthians 5:8 -- We are confident, yes, well, pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

As a pro-life (antiabortion and anti-death penalty) Christian who is not a member of the religious right and as a person whose own mother has recently suffered serious neurological injury, I find this case completely appalling. The president and Congress have drastically overstepped the constitutional limits placed upon the executive and legislative branches of government. The party of "states' rights" has desecrated the principles of federalism and the sanctity of marriage. Mrs. Schiavo made her wishes clear to her husband. Those wishes were verified by her best friend and confirmed in the courts of the state of Florida. Contrary to the so-called conservative view, keeping someone alive via artificial means (and yes, a feeding tube is artificial life support) against their will is not biblically accurate.

For Christians like Mrs. Schiavo, death is not to be feared. The people who have compared this case to "starving a dog to death" are completely ignorant of medical, legal and religious facts. I have had a relative die as a result of a prior refusal to be on a feeding tube. I can assure you it was not the horrific scene that Tom DeLay and Bill Frist have fallaciously propagandized. Every year, hundreds of thousands of religious people have DNRs, reject certain medical procedures, and make living wills prohibiting life support because they would prefer to have eternal life in heaven rather than suffer needlessly on earth.

My mother has reiterated her request to not be kept alive via artificial means for an extended period of time. If that event arises, my family, unlike Mrs. Schiavo's parents, will unselfishly honor her wishes and let her peacefully go to the Lord.

-- Jason Rowe

I've been having a difficult time getting anything done for the past few days. Every time I turn on the television or radio, I hear something about the Terri Schiavo case and the political posturing surrounding her case, and get so angry that I can't think of anything else.

Let me tell you about my experience with the effects of the right-to-life crusade on my family. In 2001, my mother was in a nursing home in our town and in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. She was also confined to a wheelchair due to the effects of severe arthritis and a previously broken hip. One night she managed to disconnect the restraints and alarms that were used to keep her in bed and she attempted to walk to the bathroom. On the way, she fell and broke her other hip.

She was immediately transferred to the hospital and underwent surgery to repair the broken hip the following day. The surgeon was able to repair the hip by replacing it with an artificial joint, but the pain continued. When she recovered from the effects of the surgical anesthetic, she began screaming in agony. Various painkillers were administered, but none of them were capable of reducing the pain at normal doses.

I tried to get her doctors to give her enough painkiller to make her comfortable, but none were willing to give her a dose of sufficient strength to relieve the pain. Apparently, a larger dose might kill her if it didn't relieve the pain and none of the doctors were willing to leave themselves open to a charge of practicing euthanasia. Even though her situation was hopeless and the Alzheimer's would probably kill her within a few weeks or months, the right-to-life zealots have the medical profession so cowed that they can't do what's best for the patient.

As a result, my mother lay in bed and screamed in agony for a week until she was so exhausted that she could die. I find it really hard to believe that my mother would have found it worth suffering the week of agony just to keep from offending the sensibilities of the religious right. I wish the "compassionate conservatives" could muster up enough compassion to consider the suffering of others.

-- John Buyok

If you would compare my level of faith to the median level of faith in the country, I would probably be considered a conservative, for the simple fact that I believe in the virgin birth and the Resurrection, and I believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

However, I am simply appalled at the way people who claim to have my kind of faith are acting. The one thing that we as Christians are assured of is a life that surpasses our physical bodies. I haven't heard anybody who claims to be representing Christian beliefs ask whether or not Terri Schiavo believed that Jesus Christ died for her, or whether or not when her physical body does stop, if she will be in Heaven with the body she apparently longed for on earth.

I was just going to state that "If someone I loved were in Ms. Schiavo's condition ..." I can't make that statement. I've never had to watch someone I love die. I do hope, though, that the people that love me would understand, if I were in Ms. Schiavo's condition ...

I can't say that, either. My longing to be in Heaven wouldn't be any stronger than it is now.

My belief system says that God puts us here on earth for a purpose. While we are praying for Ms. Schiavo, her husband and her family, let's pray that her purpose can be seen.

The president and Congress can say and do whatever they want, I suppose. I just wish they wouldn't use Jesus to back themselves up.

-- Deb Howard

I was unhappy with Eric Boehlert's tack in his editorial, "When Public Opinion Doesn't Matter." While the point he was making -- that the political interest in the case does not reflect the public will -- was a good one, the approach also gave the impression that public opinion should have been a factor in deciding Mrs. Schiavo's fate. It shouldn't. Only Mrs. Schiavo's own choice, which has been established to the satisfaction of the courts, mattered in this. I know Mr. Boehlert was not saying otherwise, but it was a bit too easy to misread (or even willfully misquote) his editorial.

-- Sophie Lagaci

I can't thank you enough for your coverage today of the Terri Schiavo case. I have been spluttering for days, in a rage about what political opportunists are doing to what's left of this poor woman, and I have found little in the mainstream print press that satisfies my need for intelligent articulation of the constitutional and ethical questions at hand. Your articles by Alan Wolfe and Eric Boehlert and your interview with the Rev. John Paris have helped articulate for me what I've only been able to fume about.

-- Maryann Gorman

This Republican Congress didn't just slide down that proverbial slippery slope with its actions in the Schiavo case, it jumped head-first -- and landed on the rights of all Americans. No matter where they stand on this complicated and emotional issue, all rational-thinking Americans have to be concerned.

Despite what Republican leaders say, a precedent has been set. Imagine a future where lawmakers are moved -- through personal feelings, pleas from generous donors or the desire for reelection -- to seek intervention in other court cases. Certain conservatives might not mind that now, but should look to a time when Congress will be controlled by Democrats. How would they feel if that Congress sought intervention when lawmakers didn't like a court ruling on, say, gun control or the death penalty?

In any event, the arrogance, hypocrisy and abusive political maneuverings of congressional Republicans and Mr. Bush have to be reined in. The Democrats have been unsuccessful so far. So, I'm praying for an intervention from on high.

-- Robin Johnston

While I agree in principle with Terri Schiavo's right to die, I think that we should be careful when trumpeting the virtues of law. According to classical philosophers, namely Plato and Aristotle, it is not always clear that written law can quite encompass the range of situations that exist in a human society. While there may be a right and wrong, the same law may not always be in the "right."

All I am saying is, tread lightly when invoking the majesty of law. It has been known to be wrong.

-- Justin Lacombe

I find myself disappointed in Salon's approach to the Schiavo case. How can all of your writers on this topic pretend that it doesn't raise terrifying issues on both sides of the political spectrum? As someone with solid liberal credentials who does support the right to die, here are the things that make me glad to have intervention in this case, even if it does come from the Christian right:

1. It worries me that decisions about life or death could come down to hearsay: based on a husband whose motivations might be questionable and a few reported comments, a court feels that it can come to a conclusion about the preferences of someone who cannot express them.

2. Schiavo's parents claim she is responsive and can even communicate, while doctors claim these movements are purely reflexes. But surely the fact that Schiavo smiles, moves, grunts and breathes on her own raises important concerns about what it means to be alive. This is a debate worth having, a debate about disability and the definition of a "persistent vegetative state"; a debate, by the way, that is quite alive in medical circles. Surely Salon can give that debate a fair shake, instead of featuring only an article claiming that "This has nothing to do with the sanctity of life."

The view that in the absence of a living will, it is best to continue life support, seems like a position that a reasonable person might hold. It is not exclusively the domain of rabid evangelicals. It worries me that Salon and the liberal left continue to portray this as a right-to-die issue, and bring up the demonic specter of the Christian right to create panic among us pro-choice liberals. Let us not overlook that protection for Schiavo is also protection for ourselves: protection from having anyone other than individuals themselves -- even their spouses -- make decisions about whether they are fit to live.

-- Irene Perciali

Thank you, Alan Wolfe and Salon! Just yesterday I was engaged in a heated argument with co-workers while discussing the Terri Schiavo case. I was trying (unsuccessfully) to make the case that Mr. Wolfe so eloquently made in his piece, "The Panderers," but all I succeeded in doing was to get angry at most of my friends, who have been blinded by the politics at play in this story.

Mr. Wolfe's piece intelligently frames the issue as it should be framed -- in terms of America's tradition of liberty, not in terms of a blitzkrieg to the moral high ground as the Republicans want it to be viewed.

-- Rob Kerr

The irony in all of this is that "Schiavo" (pronounced Skee-Ah-Voh, it irritates the hell out of me to constantly hear it mispronounced) means "slave" in Italian. Read whatever you would like into that.

-- Lisa Vara

It strikes me as oddly peculiar during this grotesque, Republican-led exploitation of Terri Schiavo that no one is paying attention the following issues:

The efforts to keep Mrs. Schiavo alive constitute a filibuster. In Washington, these efforts are being orchestrated by the very opponents of the filibuster's use in Congress.

Mrs. Schiavo's condition was brought about by her bulimia. As she was consciously abusing herself, none of those fanatically intent on her survival offered to help with her condition.

The Bible states that the husband is lord over the wife. I've yet to hear any Christians involved in this matter point that out.

-- Pat Gallagher

I live in Florida, and so have been forced to watch the ruthless tug-of-war over Terry Schiavo's future, which of course has less to do at this point with "justice" or "the culture of life" than with political grandstanding on the part of the Christian right and Congress. Having lost a loved one after a long, painful and humiliating illness, I feel special empathy for both Michael Schiavo and Terri's parents, the Schindlers. They are each faced with a horrific circumstance, and it's a pity that they couldn't settle it privately.

That said, I think it's fair to compare Terri Schiavo's circumstance to that of another woman whose life was placed in the hands of the American legal and political system: Karla Faye Tucker, who was sentenced to death in Texas, and whose execution was ordered -- against the protests of anti-death penalty lobbies that included numerous Christian right organizations -- by the former governor of Texas, one George W. Bush.

Ms. Tucker should be familiar to Salon readers: a convicted murderer whose sentencing hinged largely on a recording made by her then-boyfriend and accomplice (who sold her out to save himself from the death penalty) in which she described the orgasmic pleasure of bludgeoning two people to death with a pickax, Karla Faye experienced an altogether convincing religious conversion to evangelical Christianity while on death row, and thus became a poster child for the possibility of grace, reform and mercy. Then-Gov. Bush refused to spare her life, citing his obligation to uphold the rule of law.

It may seem perverse to compare Terri Schiavo to a death row inmate, but the logic is sound. By committing murder, Ms. Tucker yielded control over her own destiny to the state.

Similarly, by signing her marriage certificate, Ms. Schiavo willingly entered into a contract under which her husband, not her parents, is explicitly entrusted with the sole power to make decisions about her life and medical care in the event that she became unable to express her own wishes

I grieve for the Schindlers, and I sympathize with their sorrow and their deep desire to hold on to hope. But it is Michael Schiavo's right, vindicated by countless doctors and medical ethicists and even the Supreme Court of our beloved backwater banana republic of Florida, to allow his wife's body to follow her brain to the great unknown. The law may be wrong in this case, but our public officials must uphold its rule, lest we abandon all pretense of blind justice or representative democracy.

-- Ed Tarkington

The sincerity of Schiavo's husband is in doubt regarding her wishes (which apparently she never repeated to anyone else), and she has parents who are willing to care for her, and are anxious to give her love and affection. It doesn't hurt anyone to err on the side of life, and give someone food and water.

Maybe then this Republican "humanity" can be extended to other parts of the world.

-- Tom Yesberger

Terri Schiavo has a right to life; we all do. But does the right to life include the right to live as an inhuman vegetable? Does it include the right to submit one's husband to the status of permanent caretaker, endless emotional pain and mile-high medical bills? Speaking of medical bills, do conservative Republicans who want people like Terri Schiavo kept alive also want the government -- meaning you and I -- to foot those bills? Republicans favor expanding the welfare state (e.g., Medicare) just as Democrats do; aren't they submitting this welfare state to even more economy-busting medical expenses than we already have in the name of -- what? Keeping the hopelessly ill and barely alive breathing another few days or weeks?

The dangerous, ugly side of this whole issue is that it's not being treated as a borderline case, or as the unfortunate exception that it is. Instead, religious conservatives are trying to use it as an example of how any kind of life is life, no matter how partial, or tenuous or barely hanging on that life might be. They know that if they can impose force on the living to keep alive the barely living, they can likewise impose force on the living to bring into existence unwanted potential lives. Their view of life is not rational; it's religious. When they say that this country is founded not on reason, but on faith, they mean it.

-- Michael J. Hurd

Salon Staff

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