The countdown began at two o’clock on Wednesday, October 15th. That was when Florida Judge George W. Greer’s cease-feeding order went into effect. Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed and most observers give her 10 to 14 days tops. She will shortly begin to die of starvation and dehydration.
Schiavo, for the uninitiated, suffered brain damage in 1990. Her husband Michael convinced a jury to award $1.3 million in 1993, $750,000 of which was earmarked for her rehabilitation. Instead, he stuck her in a nursing home, refused to pay for treatment, put her on the do not resuscitate list, went to court more than once to try to have her plug pulled, and finally succeeded yesterday.
Maybe it was simply the plight of a poor woman or maybe it was the utter unlikability of her husband — he shacked up with another woman, reportedly spent money earmarked for his wife’s rehab on lawyer fees to try to have her offed, and used the courts to short circuit any intervention by her parents — but something about the case has struck a chord with the technerati.
Catholic blogs are sounding the alarm and helping to organize protests. Activists are spamming news sites (including this one) with urgent pleas for help, and requests that people contact Florida governor Jeb Bush to demand that he do something. Sites such as Terri’sFight.org are spreading a version of the story which casts her hubby and the legal system in the worst possible light. WorldNetDaily.com is churning out story after story to try to make a dent in the public consciousness. Also, a recent videotape, made surreptitiously by Terri’s father in defiance of court order, which shows this supposed vegetable exhibiting a remarkable degree of responsiveness, is making the e-rounds.
Whether any of this will have an effect is an interesting question and may help answer how the Internet changes the social order. Already, Terri’s case has received much more coverage than it would have, say, five years ago. As we’ve seen in recent anti-globalization protests, activists can plan and assemble much more rapidly and effectively nowadays. Could this mean mass demonstrations in Florida by the middle of next week? Further, will any of this change the gruesome outcome? As things stand now, all Michael Schiavo has to do is run out the clock, and he can inherit whatever’s left of the 1993 settlement.
There is, of course, another aspect of this case that I almost hesitate to mention. Florida Governor Jeb Bush has promised Terri’s parents all the support he can muster, but he insists that the courts will have the final word. In a legal sense, he’s correct, but I wonder if his decision isn’t a bit like Pontius Pilate cleverly washing his hands of what is about to happen.
That is, with the intense interest that the case has aroused, I’m not sure if the courts are ready for the backlash from Terri Schiavo’s death. Many would see the courts as an agent of her demise, and rightly so. If I were in Congress, I would view Judge Greer’s decision an impeachable offense, as much to avoid the hit the judiciary would take as anything else. The case is a potentially delegitimizing one, which places justice and humanity on one side, and the courts on the other. And the Internet would make this crime nearly impossible to forget.