local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page

 last week

 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info
 classifieds info
 internet info
 sun valley central
 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs
Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 29 - November 4, 2003

Opinion Columns

Life and death
in the wrong hands

Commentary by Adam Tanous

What does it mean to be alive?

The answer to that question may have medical, spiritual or philosophical definitions, any of which might be sufficient for a given context. But a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of that question is illusive and at the root of some of the more divisive debates of civil society. For one, it bears import on the right-to-die issue.

If pressed, I would say life comes down to a complex interweaving of emotional connection to others, intellectual thought processes and a sensual perception of the outside world. They are, at times, interdependent qualities, which doesn’t help when it comes to deciding what to do about cases like that of Terri Schiavo.

Doctors have determined that in 1990 Schiavo experienced a potassium deficiency, which caused her heart to stop temporarily. Schiavo suffered brain damage and went into what doctors call a "persistent vegetative state." She was 26 years old at the time and had no living will. Though able to breathe on her own, Schiavo has no cognitive function. She cannot chew nor swallow food. Schiavo has only involuntary reflexes.

So for 13 years she has been in a vegetative state with a feeding tube inserted in her abdomen to keep her alive, at least by some definitions.

Schiavo’s husband, Michael, had sought treatment—some relatively experimental—for his wife for years, but in 1998 went to the courts to seek the removal of her feeding tube. He testified that his wife told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially. It’s not clear when she told him this, though presumably it was before the original cardiac event.

In recent court documents, Mr. Schiavo stated of his earlier efforts to sustain his wife’s life, "I never wanted Terri to die. I was hiding behind my hope and selfishly ignoring Terri’s wishes."

What makes this case especially difficult is the reported acrimony between Michael Schiavo and Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. The Schindlers have been fighting Mr. Schiavo’s efforts in court, despite the fact that they signed over full legal guardianship to him after Terri first went into a vegetative state in 1990. As a matter of law, legal guardianship during illnesses generally falls to the husband or wife, rather than to parents. And so over the course of six years of hearings and appeals Mr. Schiavo has won at just about every turn. One of the reasons he has won so consistently is the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that residents have the "constitutional right to choose or refuse medical treatment."

Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Enter the Florida Legislature. Prompted by a letter writing campaign organized by militant anti-abortion activist Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue fame), the Legislature carefully drafted a bill to apply specifically to the Schiavo case and which gave the governor the power of a one-time stay to override the court rulings and have the tube reinserted. The tube was put back into Schiavo Tuesday, Oct. 21.

This action by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature is wrong on several fronts. For one, it’s a case of politicians trampling over the privacy rights of individuals solely to make a show of their principles. How can a passel of politicians possibly insert themselves into this ethical and very personal decision? If in their own lives they choose to remain in a vegetative state indefinitely, should it come down to that, it is certainly their right. But to force someone else to take that path is ethically untenable. The action defies Terri Schiavo’s wishes—according to her husband’s testimony—and the wishes of her legal guardian.

Where life and death intersect, and to what extent dignity enters into our last wishes, is and always has been a very personal determination. To put that kind of decision in the hands of someone else is profoundly misguided.

What’s more, the actions of the governor and lawmakers seems to be on shaky legal ground. How can a law crafted for one case and which provides a one-time power for the governor possibly conform to the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution?

Yet another legal problem with this move is it violates the constitutional separation of powers. In broad terms, legislatures are charged with enacting general laws. It is up to the courts to decide individual cases with their particular facts. For the Florida Legislature to try to undo a decided case with a new law is a gross violation of their power. Imagine if every time a legislature, regardless of political leaning, decided it didn’t like a particular court ruling and so enacted laws to get around the ruling. It would not only create legal chaos but it would also be an abuse of power.

Many of the Florida lawmakers reportedly made note of their religious beliefs before voting for the law. That’s all well and good for them but totally irrelevant here. Whatever those beliefs may be, I’m sure they will serve them well should they ever have to face such an awful decision. What is relevant is not their religious beliefs, but those of Terri Schiavo and her husband, and whatever intimate conversations the couple may have had regarding right-to-die issues.

Issues of life and death, whether we’re talking about abortion or the choices we sometimes have to make at the end of life, are questions for the soul, each and every soul. They cannot be resolved by consensus or democratic majorities. Those are the bluntest of instruments in the most delicate of situations. Only in the heart and mind of an individual can such questions be answered. And even at that, it’s a difficult, sometimes convoluted, path to the answer inside. No governor or legislature has the ability to see that deeply into anybody.



City of Ketchum

Formula Sports


Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.