NORTH MIAMI BEACH — My friend Barry Ingber moved back to California recently and left me a wonderful gift in parting. It is a telegram that he sent on May 5, 1987, to a liberal talk-show host on NPR named Ruth Hirschman who was denying that Terry Waite was really being held hostage by the Hezbollah in Beirut. The telegram reads: “Springtime in Beirut is wonderful; having the time of my life — wish you were here. Terry Waite.” Friends, this era of American self-delusion is coming to a close. We are learning to stop fooling ourselves, and our best teacher might be a plucky Floridian woman with a brain injury.
Let me say this clearly about the case of Terri Schiavo: I have never been prouder to be an American, never happier to be a Floridian. This nation, led by its red-state citizens, has united to deploy its boundless fount of creativity on behalf of one least equipped to preserve her own life. We will not be gulled anymore. We will not let this woman die.
The Florida state legislature, prodded intently by Governor Bush, which saved her life in 2003 with one clever law, tried to pass another this time. It would forbid pulling the plug on any patient who had not signed an actual living will with such instruction. Somehow this jammed in the State Senate. So they handed it off, and upward. The U.S. Congress stepped in.
Ingeniously, Rep. Mike Enzi (R-WY) came up with the idea of subpoenaing her to appear before his committee, affording her protection until such time as she was sufficiently recovered to testify. This was blocked by the State court, and the feeding tube was pulled at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 18. So Congress brainstormed again and came up with a special bill in a special session and the President made a special trip to sign the bill so that Terri could be fed again. A stunning outlay of political energy and resources, motivated solely by an uncomplicated respect for the individual person and a humble gratitude for God’s greatest gift to humankind, the gift of life.
By now the players have grown familiar. The Schindler family, Terri’s parents and siblings, are asking for her to be returned to their care. They seem prepared to do whatever it takes to love her and to work toward their dream for her rehabilitation. She is only 41 years old and they hope to catalyze higher levels of cognition.
Opposing them is her husband, Michael Schiavo, who recalled after winning a three-quarters-of-a-million dollar lawsuit that she had expressed a desire to die rather than living in a vegetative state, then discontinued all therapeutic and rehabilitative efforts on her behalf. The Schindlers deny that she ever said such a thing and argue that her ability to smile, cry and acknowledge visitors puts her many notches above the vegetable in the food chain.
THE GREAT RIGHT-TO-LIFE writer, Wesley Smith, has researched the case and claims that Schiavo has, among other dubious decisions as her legal guardian, had her cat killed and her wedding ring melted down … all this while cohabiting with another woman and fathering two children. Yet Judge Greer, the Florida jurist who has the disposition of her case, continues to vest sole stewardship over her destiny in the hands of this spouse-by-a-technicality.
This is the quirky conundrum that has been handed to our society as a battleground of the intellect and the spirit. Life or death? The letter of the law or the spirit of the law? Quality of life or sanctity of life? Optimism or pessimism? We know what Greer and Schiavo think: they believe that the cup is half-empty and what’s more, it’s their cup to begin with.
But for once, finally, after fifty years of persistent reversals in the courts, we are starting to win. We are beginning to get the message that if we fight for life with all our hearts, the culture will turn, Main Street will return and the arrogating Courts will overturn. If we save Terri through this stirring advocacy by our activists and legislators, we will send a message across the nation and across the world: we choose Life.
I admit it, I am wearing my heart on my sleeve this time. And here in South Florida, the sleeves are short and the hearts are big. For once we are united in a cause that transcends the calculi of politics and economics and power and glory. Dammit, we are reaching out to this woman who could be our mother or sister or daughter and telling her, “Honey, you are safe here in the nation of the Mayflower and the Constitution and the White House and the Super Bowl. We are a nation founded in love of God and Mankind; as long as we are here, you will be beloved and protected.”
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