[Marxism] My two cents on the Schiavo case

ffeldman at verizon.net ffeldman at verizon.net
Thu Mar 24 22:24:00 MST 2005

The case of Terri Schiavo is a "wedge issue" for the Republicans because it appeals not only to religious beliefs, but reaches beyond that to humanitarian feelings, human solidarity, and family feeling (including fears about whether family members will be denied needed medical care in catastrophic situations). All this goes well beyond the scope of fanatically Christian relgious belief.

Through a soap-operatic campaign, the Republicans hope to win a few more adherents for their anti-democratic, 
anti-democratic program. They hope to cover themselves with the cloak of humanitarianism while thousands of lives are being snuffed out  around the world by the US rulers -- not only in Iraq but here -- by portraying themselves as fighters for the life of this one helpless individual, who is quite possibly  brain-dead. 

The payoff for this campaign, to the extent it is politically successful, will make it easier for them to medical care, make cuts in social security, and so on.  The politicians are also trying to sell their religious beliefs as humanitarian to the population, regardless of religious belief.  They are concerned about the individual life, while the bureaucrats, judges, doctors -- and the politicians of the other party -- just don't care about the little person.

In a subtle way, the Republicans are also pushing the idea that medical care, personal and social security are all matters for the individual -- just individual cases.  This helps advance their idea that there is no need for social provision for human needs beyond subsidizing tax contributions to the stock market, and making sure that little Johnnie, who the talking heads say needs a kidney, or Terry who has had her feeding tube removed, get public support.  

Medical care must be taken care of by each individual and each family, but the "needy" and "deserving" special cases can appeal for help to Mr. and Mrs. Big-Hearted America, charities, Congress, or, best of all, God. 

If there is a "right to die," it can only be a right of the individual directly affected.  Neither the parents nor the husband can exercise Terry Schiavo's "right to die" unless she explicitly gave them the power to make that decision.  No comparison with "parental permission" restrictions on abortion rights applies here, because just about everybody in the United States except Terry Schiavo is exercising their right to choose here.

This is a clear argument for people to clearly set their wishes in living wills and so forth.  I don't see how the husband's recollection of verbal statements (how's his hearing? how's his memory? did she speak clearly?) can constitute the expression of her "choice." Nor does a power of attorney established after she became comatose.

My father was fortunate enough, in his last illness, to be able to express his wishes for "no extraordinary measures" to the doctors and his immediate family.  When he stopped breathing, the doctors reminded us of his opinion,asked us what we wanted, and we implemented his decision. I'm sure glad I didn't have to make it, and don't know if I could have done so.

If you recognize that her husband's recollection of her words is not the same as a statement or action from her, the parents and husband have exactly equal standing in this matter. Rejecting the current right-wing slander campaign against the husband as an "abuser," the difference between the husband and the parents can simply be a difference of two mental sets in the situation: He is ready to move on and let go and the parents are not.

Neither the parents nor the husband have based their position on religious beliefs, as far as I know.  I think it is important that the left not slip into the posture of treating the husband's position as "progressive" or the grandparents' position as the "reactionary" one in this dispute.  We can't bury the real problems here behind pro- or anti-fundamentalist flag-waving.

On the technical side, I have taken note of the reports -- not the current one by a doctor who I suspect is a tendentious quack -- that indicate varying levels of "awakeness" in the patient.  Is this true? Does this indicate variation in consciousness? Well, I am sure the doctors are acting with complete integrity, but the known facts leave me in a state of some doubt.  I kind of identify with the "reactionary" public opinion that is not quite sure the doctors have it quite right.

These are all human, not primarily legal, factors. All my impulses are very "conservative" toward choosing the maintenance of life over death.  I am very uncomfortable about allowing the courts -- or even family members -- to decide in favor of death when the evidence may not be truly overwhelming.  It seems that proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a viable standard in these matters as it is supposed to be in capital cases (not that there should be any capital cases).

Of course, cases like this are produced by medical advances which the overwhelming majority of the world's people have no access too, so such "moral" questions do not arise for them. They get sick, they get well or die without feeding tubes, respirators or even aspirin. But of course, pulling the plug on Schiavo won't redistribute medical care to a single African AIDS sufferer, and the loused-up priorities of the society and the media don't eliminate the real issues in individual cases.

I think the right's political offensive around this issue is not furthered by portraying the core issues in dispute as a right-left polarization.

A society where the provision of human needs and the protection and development of human life is a core priority will be able to make decisions like this on a much more humanistic basis than any of us involved in this debate today.  This dispute is a product of and really can only take place in this form in a society like the United States today, where the denial of human rights and human needs is a basic mode of functioning.
Fred Feldman

More information about the Marxism mailing list