With regard to the story about Fred Thompson talking about Terry Schiavo linked to in “Re: Social Conservatives,” I want to tread carefully and respectfully here. The full video is here. And the written ABC report is here. Thompson’s answer is very moving. It explains why he was reluctant to talk about the case earlier. Hearts should go out to him on the issue. And, indeed, the moral issue about end-of-life decisions is not the subject of this blog post.
The problem is that Tapper (in the written article, and presumably in his question to Thompson) framed the issue inaccurately, and Thompson’s answer seemed to accept Tapper’s faulty premise and thus it lent itself to more confusion about what actually happened. This is a particularly important topic to me — not so much the specific family decision about Schiavo, but what the courts and Congress actually did or didn’t do to “intervene.” Tapper, although a good reporter, bought into the myth that Congress “overstepped its bounds in March 2005 by preventing Schiavo’s feeding tube from being removed.” But that is just not true. Congress did not prevent the tube from being removed. (More on that in a minute.) And, despite what Thompson said, it was NOT an issue of the federal or state government or the courts stepping INTO a family matter. It was a case of INTERPRETATION of EXISTING laws and constitutional issues about end-of-life questions, laws and constitutional issues that any society must have in order to protect the innocent, protect family rights, etc., i.e. in order to determine where one set of rights begins and another set ends and vice versa. Second, it was not just a case of “letting the family decide.” It was a complicated case about WHICH part of the family–parents or (former) husband– would decide, or, more accurately, how the identity of the “family” was to be determined, IN ORDER THAT the family as defined by law could indeed decide.
Now, back to what Congress did. It did not order anything to be done or not done. All it did, pursuant to its constitutional grant of power to define the jurisdiction of the federal courts, was to provide an appellate avenue to the federal courts for Schiavo’s parents (yes, her FAMILY) to make a case de novo about new constitutional issues and perhaps new issues of fact concerning their daughter. Not only was Congress NOT preventing the courts from deciding (as Thompson and apparently Tapper think was done), but it was affirmatively creating a new avenue for the courts to act or not act. As it was, the federal courts rejected the request for a temporary injunction (much less a more permanent order to keep the tube in place OR a decision about the underlying issues themselves on the merits) , and the tube was removed.
Thompson is right that the issue ought not be a political football. But while the emotion of his answer is perfectly understandable, the substance of it was just off point. Somebody must denounce the notion that Congress stepped into a family matter to decide the outcome in one way or another. What Congress did, in light of the extremely complicated and emotional and, yes, politically charged nature of the case, was to take one more step to ensure that justice was indeed being done according to the laws of the land.
A constitutional conservative would set the record straight, because only by correcting the premise in the first place can the underlying issue that upsets people so much, the life or death issue, be intelligently discussed without calumny being heaped on the heads of social conservatives whose efforts with regard to Schiavo have been repeatedly and unjustly mispresented and criticized.
This post is getting too long, and I’m late for a commitment already. But if somebody is interested enough to remind me, I will return to this tomorrow to give what SHOULD be the right, more simple, answer for a candidate to give when asked about the Schiavo case. Meanwhile, this is not meant to criticize Thompson’s instincts or feelings. It is just to say that, between the first time when he didn’t answer and this time when he did, somebody darn well ought to have briefed him on the facts so that he didn’t perpetuate the misrepresentation that is so often used to beat conservatives up with.
With all due respect and sympathy for Thompson, then, I hope that at least one of the major candidates in the campaign, if not Thompson himself, takes another crack at this and does it right.