The death of Terri Schiavo

The fight to save her is over. The political repercussions have just begun.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 31, 2005 3:12PM (EST)

Terri Schiavo is dead.

Representatives for Schiavo's husband and her parents told reporters just after 10 a.m. today that the 41-year-old woman has died. Her death came 13 days after her feeding tube was removed and just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her parents' final request for an order requiring that the tube be reinserted.

Schiavo's death ends the legal fights over whether she should have been kept alive, but the political repercussions of her case will survive her. As Schiavo's husband and her parents fight over whether she'll be cremated or buried, Republicans in Washington -- stung by widespread public disapproval of their involvement in the case -- are likely to begin to move away from the Schiavo controversy with the same sense of urgency that they entered it in the first place.

Indeed, that process has already begun.

A senior Republican official told the Chicago Tribune last week that the Schiavo debate "is over for the remainder of the year," stressing that Congress has a "very full agenda ahead of it." After taking the unprecedented step of cutting short his vacation in Crawford, Texas, to sign emergency legislation giving federal courts jurisdiction in the Schiavo case, George W. Bush has all but gone AWOL on the matter. Meanwhile, as Media Matters reports, the president's supporters in the media are already downplaying the role he played in the case. Fox's Brit Hume says that Bush's "intervention consisted mostly of a signature and some statements from the White House," and Dick Morris contends that Bush "stepped lightly on the issue."

Morris' take on the president is simply false -- in addition to signing the Schiavo legislation and speaking out in public about case, Bush must have approved when his Justice Department filed legal briefs supporting Schiavo's parents' efforts to have her feeding tube reinserted. But Morris is closer to mark in describing the trouble that the Schiavo case has caused for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Liberals and moderates are unhappy with the governor for involving himself at all in the case, and religious conservatives are calling him "Pontius Pilate" for failing to do enough. Having managed to infuriate people at every end of the political spectrum, Jeb Bush had "better look for a new line of work," Morris says -- and it won't be at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But the biggest loser in the Terri Schiavo case has to be Schiavo herself. The Florida courts decided that she would have wanted to die rather than live the life she endured. The right and the left may forever disagree over that conclusion, and the Republican Party may well find itself caught in the middle. But everyone ought to be able to agree on this: Whatever Terri Schiavo might have wanted out of her life and her death, it wasn't what she got.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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