Wednesday, March 30, 2005

JESSE JACKSON IS THE SECOND public figure to surprise everyone by announcing his support for Terri Schiavo's parents in their fight to get their daughter's feeding tube reinserted. The first, as everyone knows by now, was Ralph Nader. I am very puzzled about their motivations for doing this, particularly in the instance of Nader. Although I definitely was startled yesterday to read that Jackson had supported the Schindlers on television and that he accepted Mary Schindler's invitation to go down to Florida, I can sort of credit it in his case. He is, after all, a Baptist minister. A desire for the spotlight might be involved, too. Why else would he arrive at the hospice in a white stretch limo, drawing attention to himself when you might think he would want to keep the focus on the Schindlers.

But Ralph Nader? That really is a head-scratcher. He's not religious at all, as far as I know. He's a consumer advocate; that's how he came to fame. He ran for president 3 times, and always supported strong limits on government intrusions into Americans' private lives. He supports separation of church and state. He supports gay rights. He supports abortion rights. (But then, so does Jesse Jackson.)

Having read his article about the issue in Common Dreams, I am still mystified. He says that, since Terri Schiavo has no awareness, she has no preference, and since she does not have a living will, nobody knows what her preference would have been. Therefore, it is better to reinsert the feeding tube and keep her vital organs alive, even though she herself has not been alive, in any meaningful sense of the word, for 15 years.

This is the same justification for ruling in the parents' favor that we have heard from Pres. Bush, from Jeb Bush, from Tom DeLay, from everyone else involved in the federal intervention into this case. We all probably have our opinions about whether Terri Schiavo should be kept alive indefinitely through a feeding tube, or allowed to die. But that is not the most important issue here. In my view, the central issue in this case is the fact that the Bush administration violated the constitutionally mandated separation of powers between the central government and the states; that he used the power of the executive and legislative branches (as did the entire Republican leadership, of course) to undo judicial decisions he did not like. It concerns me deeply that the federal government intervened in a private family matter that had been litigated and ruled on in the Florida courts for years. Nader does not address these issues at all -- not at all. And I would think that someone like him -- with his strong background of support for individual rights, civil liberties, keeping government out of people's private lives, and so on -- would want to address those issues.

I fault both of these men -- Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson -- for coming in at this extraordinarily late stage, when all legal appeals have been exhausted; when Terri Schiavo has been almost two weeks without food and water and has no realistic chance of surviving even if the feeding tube were reinserted right now; and when the Schindlers, after saying they would not file any more appeals, did file another desperate appeal to the same federal court that turned them down 3 times before. (And their request for a new review was turned down again today.) Throughout this legal circus, members of Congress, the president, religious nuts like Randall Terry, David Gibbs, the so-called neurologist William Cheshire, and any number of others, have manipulated the Schindlers and given them false hope and misleading if not downright false information about Terri's medical condition. It appalls me to know that two men who built their careers on values of honesty and not disinformation; on support for empowering individuals rather than giving in to fanaticism and heavy-handed government, should be in that number.

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