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23 March 2005

Deserving Better

Lana Jacobs of Columbia was arrested in Florida on Tuesday, trying to smuggle water in to a certain hospice currently in the news.  It's a shame, really, that she has been taken in by the political circus that the Terri Schiavo case has become.

Yes, taken in.

I don't know Lana Jacobs personally, though I know that for years she has worked to help those at the margins of life here in Columbia; the unwanted, the unwelcome, the unwilling to conform.  She is a woman of considerable faith who runs the St. Francis House and who has long fought for the rights of those recovering from substance abuse, who need a place to stay, who are trying to make the transition from prison back into society.

And she was undoubtably there in Florida because of her faith, because she believes that all life is sacred, and those who are most vulnerable deserve our protection.  But in being there, she has unwittingly thrown her lot in with the likes of Tom DeLay and the Republicans in Congress who have demonstrated that their rhetoric of a "Culture of Life" is just so much blather designed to placate the religious conservatives who constitute part of their political base.  If these politicians really believed in a culture of life, they wouldn't have worked to make the lives of the underclass that Jacobs serves so much tougher with cuts in Medicaid and an onerous new bankruptcy bill which will likely force more Americans to seek the sorts of services that Jacobs provides.

While polls show that the vast majority of Americans believe that there should be a way for people to die with a certain amount of dignity, and that the move of the Congress to insert itself into this gut-wrenching, intensely personal family matter was wrong on just about every level, someone like Lana Jacobs would be susceptible to wanting to act on her religious principles.  With what was said about the matter by the Republican leadership, I can see why Jacobs would feel that it was her moral duty to protest the decision to remove the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo.  After all, they painted Terri Schiavo as just being unconscious, someone who would get better with a little medical care and therapy, and that the Florida courts had been reckless in determining her wishes and what was best for her.

The truth of the matter is somewhat different.  Dr. Jay Wolfson was the Guardian-ad-litem appointed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to protect the interests of Terri Schiavo in 2003.  Both a lawyer and a doctor, Wolfson examined Terri Schiavo himself and closely reviewed all the court procedures and decisions in the Schiavo case.  His conclusion was that while Terri Schaivo had certainly suffered a tragedy of the worst sort, that the legal proceedings were all properly and scrupulously conducted, that due to the extensive brain damage she suffered there was no hope of her ever regaining any degree of consciousness, and that it was proper for the court to determine that in these circumstances it was against her wishes and those of her husband (who had the legal responsibility to make such a decision when his wife was unable to for herself) to continue to keep her alive through artificial means.

Now, I think that the rhetoric of DeLay and company, and the extraordinary move in Congress this past Sunday to become involved in the Schiavo case was nothing less than brilliant.  Yes, it was cynical, unprincipled politics, but it was brilliant nonetheless.

Why do I say that it was brilliant?  I'm sure that the members of Congress who stopped to think about it for a few moments realized that their efforts would likely result not in the judicial relief they ostensibly sought on behalf of Terri Schiavo's parents.  Rather, they knew that the Federal Courts would either not get involved at all, or that the legislation would be declared unconstitutional when it eventually reached the Supreme Court.  These guys are all (almost all, anyway) lawyers, with talented and hungry lawyers on their staffs.  So they knew full well that this law wouldn't result in a judgement that Terri Schiavo's parents and the far right religious activists would find satisfactory.  Instead, they did this knowing that the end result would eventually be the same, leading to the removal of Schiavo's feeding & hydration tube and her death.  But they'd be able to claim that they did all they could, and that it was the evil courts and activist liberal judges who allowed this poor woman to die.  Thus would they please the religious right at little cost to themselves, whip the right into a frenzy for the future, and set the stage for pushing activist conservative judges through the Senate.  That's brilliant.

It's unfortunate that this cynical and manipulative move of people of faith caught up Lana Jacobs in its net.  She deserved better.  But then, so do we all.

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