The terrible, private, family affair that has become the Terri Schiavo “right-to-life” debate is near its end. But its repercussions are just beginning.
Congress, still feeling woozy from the 2004 elections and in the mood to spend some hard-bought political capital, turned a family matter that had been litigated for a decade into a national debate. It seems that Christian conservative groups were a little perturbed that Congress wasn’t moving fast enough to implement the kinds of reforms they had paid – err, voted – for, and the case of a brain-damaged woman in Florida represented payback time.
Well, as conservative groups and Congress have learned, payback is a bitch.
Despite unprecedented Legislative and Executive Branch intervention, the courts sided with existing law, as they have all along the way in this case. Despite your feelings about the moral or ethical issues, the courts correctly ruled that laws must be for all people, not one person. Congress and the President can’t make special exceptions or write “private” bills – to do so would create a legal precedent that would keep who knows how many lawyers busy for years, and I’m sure we all agree that lawyers in America today already have enough to do.
Now the public is questioning the government’s strategy. Republicans never seriously debated whether their decision to intervene would be seen as intrusion into a family matter or a violation of the separation of powers — when informed of the latter possibility by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) simply told Sensenbrenner to “be creative.”
That creativity has concerned voters both red and blue. According to several new polls, a majority of Americans (and a majority of those who call themselves evangelical Christians) believe Congress was wrong to get involved.
Was DeLay quick to act because he faced mounting pressure from Christian conservative groups, or because the Schiavo case could divert attention from DeLay’s own ethics problems? And what would these same Christian groups do if Terri Schiavo were a Death Row inmate? Would she still have a right to life? Would we still be ethically and morally bound to provide her with nourishment, to treat her like a fellow human being?
In the end, the Schiavo case is sad, disturbing and far as we can tell, over. Let it go. Let her go. Save the bigger moral fight for tomorrow if you wish.
But most people won’t – they will move on. Perhaps it’s time we all did.