Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Circus

Politicians and the media have succeeded in turning the Terri Schiavo story, a true family tragedy, into a three-ring circus. Whatever happens in this case today and in the future, it will be remembered as a low moment in our national life, one in which a family's pain was played heartlessly for political gain and television ratings.
I actually have no problem believing that Jeb and George W. Bush, Tom DeLay and others have strong personal feelings about Mrs. Schiavo's fate. This is the kind of story that troubles a person's soul because it raises serious questions about the quality and value of life -- in fact, about what constitutes life.
What I have a horrible problem with is the political grandstanding in which the Bushes and DeLay have engaged. These politicians, who have shown little regard for the daily sufferings of the poor and sick in the United States and the world, are jumping up and down on Mrs. Schiavo's frail body, using her to proclaim their belief in a "culture of life." Bull.
A true culture of life must be concerned not just with the endpoints, but with the countless events that happen between those extremes, and the character and quality that society can help to ensure for everyone, including and perhaps especially the weakest. That is how our humanity should be judged.
Somehow, these Republicans never fail us. Just when I'm willing to give them some credit for taking an honest position on a difficult issue involving personal values and convictions, they prove me a patsy by turning the whole thing into a political circus.
What a fool I am.
While I have not reached back and looked at all of the details of this case, from what I have read it seems that the medical community and the judiciary -- who have spent many hours trying to understand it -- have been relatively uniform in their beliefs and decisions regarding Mrs. Schiavo. There really does appear to be little life there, and little reason for hope. She may continue to breathe, but it seems unlikely that improvement is possible.
Yet politicians with little or no understanding of Mrs. Schiavo's condition or prospects have taken it upon themselves to carry a banner in her name.
Mrs. Schiavo's case is not unique, except perhaps in the way it has divided her family. Families make painfully difficult decisions about their failing loved ones every day. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed into effect a law that took many of these decisions away from the families and put them in the hands of the hospitals.
If there is to be any positive outcome in the hooplah over Terri Schiavo's death, let it happen in the way of a national discussion about health care and how we, as a society, provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. That would be a legacy to honor.