Today is the third anniversary of the death by starvation and
dehydration of Terri Schindler Schiavo. In the final two weeks or her
long ordeal, when the appeals courts failed to uphold her rights to due
process, Congress intervened to establish that we are a nation of laws
that are in place to protect individual rights. Sen. Barack Obama was
one of the senators who favored Terri’s rights and her family’s. Now he
wishes he could take it back.
Nat Henthoff has the details.
In none of the endless presidential candidates’ debates
has there been a meaningful discussion of the rights of disabled
Americans. However, in the Feb. 26 debate in Cleveland, Barack Obama
casually and ignorantly revealed his misunderstanding of the basic
issue in the highly visible and still-resonating official death
sentence of a disabled woman, Terri Schiavo. I have repeatedly called
her death the result of “the longest public execution in American
When moderator Tim Russert asked Hillary Clinton and Obama if “there
are any words or votes that you’d like to take back … in your careers
in public service,” Obama answered that in his first year in the
Senate, he joined an agreement “that allowed Congress to interject
itself (in the Schiavo case) into the decision-making process of the
Obama added: ‘I think that was a mistake, and I think the American
people understood that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law
professor, I knew better.”
Apparently he knew well enough then to vote for due process, but his rethinking has since muddled.
I recommend to Obama — if he wants to make amends — that
he consult the disability-rights experts at Not Dead Yet for the facts
of the Terri Schiavo case and its acute relevance to many Americans in
Not Dead Yet is about 12 miles from Chicago at 7521 Madison St.,
Forest Park, Ill. If this presidential contender and former law
professor had bothered to do his own research, he would have discovered
— as I did in four years of covering this story and interviewing
participants, including neurologists, on both sides, that:
The husband of the brain-damaged Terri Schiavo, Michael Schiavo, had
stopped testing and rehabilitation for her in 1993, 12 years before her
death. Moreover, for years he had been living with another woman, with
whom he had two children, and whom he has since married.
And he only came up with the excuse ‘this is what she would have
wanted’ long after her mysterious collapse and subsequent debilitation,
with her family and lifelong friends insisting that thinking was
totally foreign to Terri’s true character and sensitivity toward life.
One of her closest friends testified in court that in a conversation
about the famous case of Karen Ann Quinlan, Terri told her “where
there’s life, there’ hope”, and yet the bizarre inisistence of Michael
Schiavo prevailed, against all reason and evidence. And backed by the
right-to-die movement. Though Terri wasn’t dying.
To say now that the intervention to ensure her rights to due process
was a mistake is irresponsible, in Henthoff’s restrained opinion.
He should be proud of the Senate vote he now recants — and learn a lot more about the disabled.
Here’s a good place to start.