The New York Times ran a touching and insightful editorial Friday about Theresa Marie Schiavo. The piece began by stepping back from what has been an intensely personal debate.
"One of the most astonishing things about the human experience," the Times wrote, "is the realization that loved ones die. The first time it happens, we are invariably amazed that nearly everyone who has ever lived has weathered an experience so wrenching. We see other humans on the street and in the shops and marvel that they manage to simply go about their business — that there is no constant, universal primal scream in the face of such an awful fact."
Then The Times tied the ignobility of having politics enter into what is already a grievous experience.
"That level of grief seldom brings out the noblest emotions. The sufferers can barely make their way through the day, let alone summon their best reserves of patience and compassion for the lucky people who continue to live. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the whole world witnessed what happens when that natural emotional frailty is taken captive by politics.
"It was awful, and according to the polls, the American public shrank from the sight of it."
In reflecting on the spirit of the American people, The Times noted that "Americans are a deeply pragmatic people, who constantly surprise ideologues of every persuasion with their willingness to accept whatever solution seems to work best at the moment. Our great ideals, when they are boiled down at a moment of crisis, often turn out to be mainly instincts — for fairness, for the right of individual self-determination, or sometimes just for the pursuit of happiness."
As for the public conflict between those whose religious beliefs supported Schiavo's parents struggle to pro-long her life, while others supported Schiavo's right to die, The Times stressed that each side needed to respect the other, while directing its most piercing comments at the politicians who exploited the Schiavo's tragedy. The case attracted outsiders in search of little more than another opportunity to further their own self-aggrandizement. But worst of all were the powerful people who looked at the world we live in today, in which politics is about maximizing hysteria at the margins, and concluded that the Schiavo fight was a win-win — for everyone but the people who actually cared about the dying woman.
Since this case has captured the nation's attention, many people have thoughtfully pointed out the hypocrisy of those crying out for government intervention under the pretense that life is so sacrosanct that no one should have the right to help a person die. Those who make that argument, including President Bush, warp any measure of credibility as they continue to promote the death sentence of suspected criminals and eagerly embrace a war on Iraq — which has killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis â€” under false pretenses and with little interest in reviewing opposing arguments and contradictory evidence.
More importantly, Americans should worry about the government intrusion President Bush and the religious right are proposing. If life is so sacrosanct that no one should deny medical life-support to someone who has been clinically brain dead for 15 years, why allow anyone to have a living will? Isn't that what this argument has been about? That regardless of the patient's medical condition or personal will, no individual should be able to cause another person to die.
Will the religious right now argue that living wills, like abortion, should be against the law? Logic would dictate they must, unless what we have witnessed these past few months is the emotionally-charged, but illogical, argument of the "rabid right," who some now term "bleeding heart conservatives."
Such government intrusion into personal matters is a wake-up call to how far the religious right is taking this country. Is it possible that Anthony Scalia, William Rehnquist and Anthony Kennedy — three of the most conservative justices to serve on the Supreme Court, and who rejected that court's intervention in the Schiavo case — could be too liberal for those religious conservatives who would impose their values on the private affairs of others?