Skip to comments.Public execution
Posted on 03/31/2005 11:47:24 PM PST by Zivasmate
Public execution Mark Steyn
Do you remember a fellow called Robert Wendland? No reason why you should. I wrote about him in this space in 1998, and had intended to return to the subject but something else always intervened usually Bill Clintons penis, which loomed large, at least metaphorically, over the entire era. Mr Wendland lived in Stockton, California. He was injured in an automobile accident in 1993 and went into a coma. Under state law, he could have been starved to death at any time had his wife requested the removal of his feeding tube. But Rose Wendland was busy with this and that, as one is, and assumed there was no particular urgency.
Then one day, a year later, Robert woke up. He wasnt exactly his old self, but he could catch and throw a ball and wheel his chair up and down the hospital corridors, and both activities gave him pleasure. Nevertheless Mrs Wendland decided that she now wished to exercise her right to have him dehydrated to death. Her justification was that, while the actual living Robert the Robert of the mid-1990s might enjoy a simple life of ball-catching and chair-rolling, the old Robert the pre-1993 Robert would have considered it a crashing bore and would have wanted no part of it.
She nearly got her way. But someone at the hospital tipped off Mr Wendlands mother and set off a protracted legal struggle in which despite all the obstacles the California system could throw in her path the elderly Florence Wendland was eventually successful in preventing her son being put down. He has since died of pneumonia, which is sad: the disabled often fall victim to some opportunist illness theyd have shrugged off in earlier times, as Christopher Reeve did. But thats still a better fate than to be starved to death by order of the state.
Six and a half years later, the Terri Schiavo case is almost identical to Robert Wendlands parents who wish to care for a disabled daughter, a spouse who wants her dead, a legal system determined to see her off. The only difference is that this time the system is likely to win it may already have done so by the time you read this and that Mrs Schiavos death is being played out round the clock coast to coast, with full supporting cast. It is easy to mock the attendant circus, the cheapest laugh of the self-identified sophisticate. A 12-year-old boy has been arrested for attempting to offer Mrs Schiavo a glass of water. Ha-ha.
On the other hand, if one accepts the official version that the court is merely bringing to an end (after 15 years) the artificial prolongation of Mrs Schiavos life, since when has a glass of water been deemed medical treatment? In the public areas of Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, the waiting journalists grab a Coke or a coffee or even a glass of water every half hour or so without anyone considering it medical treatment. That it is, uniquely, a crime to serve Mrs Schiavo a beverage underlines the courts intent not to cease the artificial prolongation of life but actively to cause her death.
When poor Terri Schiavo broke on to the front pages, several commentators said the case was another Elian Gonzalez the Cuban boy whose mother died trying to bring him to freedom in America. Thats to say, it was one of those stories where all sorts of turbulent questions of law, morality and politics collide. Two weeks on, if its Clintonian analogies were after, it seems to me the public regard it as something closer to the whole Paula/Monica/Juanita production line culminating in impeachment: if you recall, a large number of people were outraged by the President, a smaller number of people were determined to defend him to the end, and a huge number of people just didnt want to hear about it; and the more Republicans went on about the DNA analysis of the dress stain and Mr Clinton lying about whether his enumerated parts had been in contact with her enumerated parts and the DNA analysis of the dress stain, the more they stuck their hands over their ears and said, La-la-la, cant hear you.
That seems to be whats happening here. Whether or not theres anything in the various dubious polls claiming to show people opposed to Congressional efforts to reinsert Mrs Schiavos feeding tube, it seems clear that many of us would rather shed been like Robert Wendland a faraway local story of which they know little. A lot of Americans have paced hospital corridors while granmas medical taxi-meter goes ticking upward and, if my mailbags anything to go by, theyd rather this sort of stuff stayed in the shadows. Nobody likes to see how the sausage is made, or in this case the vegetable, if that indeed is what Terri Schiavo is. Many people seem to be unusually anxious to pretend that this judicial murder is merely a very belated equivalent of a discreet doctor putting a hopeless case out of her misery, or to take refuge in the idea that some magisterial disinterested due process is being played out or as a reader wrote to me the other day: Why are you fundamentalists so clueless? Its the law, dickbrain. Michael Schiavo isnt acting for himself; hes been legally recognised as the person qualified to act for Terri in expressing her wishes based on her own oral declarations.
Which sounds fine and dandy, until you uncover your ears and a lot of the genteel euphemisms and legalisms and medicalisms right to die, guardian ad litem, PVS start to sound downright Orwellian. PVS means persistent vegetative state, and because its a grand official-sounding term its been accepted mostly without question by the mainstream media, even though the probate judge declared Mrs Schiavo in a persistent vegetative state without troubling to visit her and without requiring any of the routine tests, such as an MRI scan. Indeed, her husband hasnt permitted her to be tested for anything since 1993. Think about that: this woman is being put to death without any serious medical evaluation more recent than 12 years ago.
La-la-la, we dont want to hear how the vegetables made....
Fortunately, if you want to execute someone who hasnt committed a crime, you dont need to worry with any of this beyond a reasonable doubt stuff. If an al-Qaeda guy got shot up resisting capture in Afghanistan and required a feeding tube and the guards at Guantanamo yanked it out, youd never hear the end of it from the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International and all the rest. Even given the litigious nature of American society, it still strikes me as remarkable that someone can be literally sued to death, and at the hands of a probate judge. Unlike other condemned prisoners, theres no hope of a last-minute reprieve from the governor. Thats to say, he did reprieve her, and so did the legislature, and the US Congress and President and the Florida courts have declared them all irrelevant. So, unlike Death Row, theres no call from the governor, and no quick painless lethal injection or electrocution or swift clean broken neck from the hangmans noose, and certainly no last meal. On Tuesday, getting a little impatient with the longest slow-motion public execution in American history, CBS News accidentally posted Mrs Schiavos obit on their website complete with vivid details that have yet to occur the parents at her bedside in the final moments, etc. In this, they seem to be in tune with their viewers: sad business, personal tragedy, no easy answers, prayers are with her family, yada yada, is it over yet?
Just to underline the Clinton comparison, the Sunday Timess Andrew Sullivan has dusted off his impeachment act and damned those of us opposed to Mrs Schiavos judicial murder as dogmatic extremist fundamentalist religious-right theocrats. If hed stop his shrill bleating for a couple of minutes, he might notice that the theocrats who want Terri Schiavo to live include Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader and Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, whos not just a Democrat but a gay one. True, the TV networks as they often do with what they see as socially conservative issues prefer to train their cameras on some of Mrs Schiavos more obviously loopy defenders. But, for all that, it seems far weirder to me to be quite so enthusiastic about ending her life. Ive received innumerable emails along the lines of, If Terri Schiavo didnt want this to happen to her, all she had to do under Florida law was make a living will one of those documents that says in the event of a severe disability I do/do not want to be kept alive (delete as applicable). Well, OK, I havent received innumerable emails, but Ive received enough that I now send back a form response politely inquiring whether the correspondent has himself made a living will. Ive yet to receive any answers. But I cant see why, in a free society, healthy persons in their twenties should be expected to file legal documents in order to pre-empt a court order mandating their death a decade or two hence.
Even if you believe in living wills, its hard to argue that Michael Schiavos wildly inconsistent statements of his wifes casual remarks about living on a tube should have the force of one. Id be irked to find I was being deported to Pyongyang on the grounds that, while watching a TV documentary late one night in 1987, Id been heard to say, Wow, you know itd be kinda cool to go to North Korea, dont you think? But the Florida legal systems position remains as a reader, Adrienne Follmer, paraphrased it to me the other day We dont know for sure if this woman wanted to live so lets starve her to death.
La-la-la, still cant hear you....
One consequence of abortion is that, in designating new life as a matter of choice, it created a culture where its now routine to make judgments about which lives are worth it and which arent. Downs Syndrome? Abort. Cleft palate? Abort. Chinese girl? Abort. Its foolish to think you can raise entire populations not to mention generations of doctors to make self-interested judgments about who lives and who doesnt and expect them to remain confined to three trimesters. The right to choose is now being extended beyond the womb: the step from convenience euthanasia to compulsory euthanasia is a short one. Until a year or two back, I spent a lot of my summer Saturdays manning the historical society booth at the flea markets on the town common, and I passed many a pleasant quarter-hour or so chit-chatting with elderly ladies leading some now middle-aged simpleton child around. Both parties seemed to enjoy the occasion. The child is no doubt a burden: he was born because he just was; there was no choice about it in those days. Having done away with those kinds of burdens at birth, were less inclined to tolerate them when they strike in adulthood, as they did in Terri Schiavos case.
In that sense, the Schiavo debate provides a glimpse of the Western world the day after tomorrow a world of nonagenarian baby boomers whove conquered most of the common-or-garden diseases and instead get stricken by freaky protracted colossally expensive chronic illnesses; a world of more and more dependants, with fewer and fewer people to depend on. In Europe, where demographic reality means that in a generation or so all the dependants will be elderly European Christians and most of the fellows theyre dependent on will be young North African or Arab Muslims, the social consensus for government health care is unlikely to survive. Terri Schiavo failed to demonstrate conclusively why she should be permitted by the state to continue living. As Western nations evolve rapidly into the oldest societies in human history, many more of us will be found similarly wanting.
Michael Schiavos lawyer, George Felos, is a leading light of the so-called right-to-die movement, and his book, Litigation as Spiritual Practice, makes interesting reading. On page 240 Mr Felos writes, The Jewish people, long ago in their collective consciousness, agreed to play the role of the lamb whose slaughter was necessary to shock humanity into a new moral consciousness. Their sacrifice saved humanity at the brink of extinction and propelled us into a new age.... If our minds can conceive of an uplifting Holocaust, can it be so difficult to look another way at the slights and injuries and abuses we perceive were inflicted upon us?
Mr Felos feels it is now Terri Schiavos turn to agree to play the role of the lamb whose slaughter is necessary to shock humanity into a new moral consciousness. As I read Feloss words, I heard a radio bulletin announce that the Pope may now require a feeding tube. Fortunately for him, his life is ultimately in the hands of God and not a Florida probate judge.
Paging the WPPFF... Paging the WPPFF... your motto is ready.
Listen to Kara Klein sing a special song for Terri here.
Yep, another good one by Steyn. In my conversations about Terri, I found most people were ignorant about the all situation. And, they did not want to hear it either. La-la-la, I can't hear you.
I think some of the humor is missing because it's scary as hell what these judges and courts can do to us.
We must not allow Congress to be silent about this.
When did Barney Frank hop on board? He was vehemently opposed to the Congressional action.
Correction - a 'spouse' who has abandoned his wife in the name of serial adultery while still claiming 'spousal' rights despite having children with a shackup girlfriend. Michael Schiavo can do whatever he wants with his life, but don't tell me he's Terri's husband.
I think that's a mistake.
I just can not assume that Robert Wendlands wife was an adulterer for so many years as was Michael Schiavo. I, too, say that Michael Schiavo was no more the husband of Terri Schiavo as was Donald Duck! What a farce, and what a misconception!
Ther bit about saying going to North Korea would be cool is priceless.
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
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