The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

They would make us all as helpless as Terri Schiavo

Mar 21, 2005

For 15 years, Terri Schiavo has lain in a total coma in Florida, kept alive artificially under court order. After doctors determined 15 years ago that Terri could never recover from severe brain damage, her husband Michael said that Terri's wishes were never to be kept alive like a vegetable. But when he finally gave doctors permission to remove her from life support, her parents went to court to prevent it. For five years since, the case was pushed from court to court as Terri Schiavo continued in a vegetative state, with eyes open seeing nothing.

It was tragic enough that the family lost a wife and daughter. It was more tragic still that the family found no way to decide things for themselves, without going to outside authorities. But it was a bitter tragedy indeed when politicians and religious fanatics found a way to worm their way into this matter. They might as well have paraded her body around the country, the way they used her life and death to prove so-called "family values." Preachers and politicians – giving Terri Schiavo no choice – used her to appeal for votes from the fundamentalist, religious parts of the population – to fire them up with a "cause," paralleling the anti-abortion cause. The more elections that came and went with Terri still on life support, the more useful was her body to those politicians, including Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the majority of the Florida State Legislature, who were showing the voters their "family values" by interfering in what should have been a personal choice.

On March 18, the last legal maneuvers appeared to have played out, and Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. But not before President Bush and many members of the U.S. Congress arranged a flurry of last-minute dramatic bills and statements about her "right to life." These moves had nothing to do with her actual right to life, of course, a life which ended 15 years ago, but everything to do with the life of a political current which seeks to invade personal privacy and personal choice – to remove from the individual the right to make basic decisions about one's own body, one's own life and one's own death.

If there is a lesson in the long agony of the Schiavo family, it is that unless the population rejects the reactionary, backward political current represented by people such as George Bush and the anti-abortion fundamentalists, any one of us could become the next Terri Schiavo.