Ted Kennedy had Mary Jo Kopechne and Chappaquiddick.
Gary Hart had Donna Rice and Monkey Business.
Bill Clinton had Paula Jones, and Gennifer Flowers, and Monica Lewinski with her little, blue dress.
Ted Kennedy recovered to become one of the legends of the Senate, though he never followed his brother to the White House. Gary Hart never overcame the scandal, and instead Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis, who no one need ever worry would be accused of being a womanizing playboy. Bill Clinton overcame Jones and Flowers to win the Presidency, and Lewinski to win re-election. Though America has yet to elect a woman as President, women have helped determine the fate of numerous men who sought the office of President over the last 50 years.
It is understandable if you clicked on this post with no idea who the beautiful, young woman in the link picture is? Most people only recognize Terri Schiavo from pictures taken much later in her life, after a tragic medical issue left her in a permanent vegetative state and the fight over her right to die progressed all the way to the Supreme Court.
Terri Schiavo died on February 25, 1990. When paramedics arrived, she was not breathing and had no pulse. That they were able to restart her heart and connect a machine to breathe for her does not make her alive again. Soon after the incident, as Terri was incapacitated in the absence of a living will, her husband Michael was appointed her legal guarding. Terri’s parents offered no objection. Years later, when they were trying to wrest guardianship from Michael, they would claim they did not contest Michael’s original guardianship as they were unaware he had taken that legal step.
Michael did not ask doctors to let Terri die that day (which he always claimed was her wish should such a circumstance occur), nor a week later, a month later, a year later. In May 1998, some eight and half years after Terri fell into a persistent vegetative state (and once all hope of recovery had been ruled out by the best doctors) Michael Schiavo formally requested his wife’s feeding tube be removed and that she be allowed to die as was her stated wish.
With the legal appeals by her parents, it would be nearly three years later (in April 2001) that Terri’s feeding tube was finally removed. A judge ordered it reinserted only two days later. The legal battle would commence again and it would not be until October of 2003 that the feeding tube is again removed.
Six days later, at the behest of then-Governor Jeb Bush, the Florida legislature passed “Terri’s Law” and Bush ordered the feeding tube reinserted. It would take until September of 2004 for Florida’s Supreme Court to rule “Terri’s Law” unconstitutional.
On March 18, 2005 the feeding tube was removed for the third and final time.
There are so many factors in this case. At the time it was being litigated, in courtrooms, in the media, over dinner tables, it consumed as much of the public consciousness as the O.J. Simpson case.
What does it mean to be alive? Does a beating heart mean life? The heart is basically a battery. If your car cranks and cranks but will not start because the engine is shot, is that still a viable car just because the battery still works, or is it scrap metal? This is not to denigrate Mrs. Schiavo, but it is a valid comparison. Her body at the end was nothing more than skin wrapped around twisted limbs. A CT scan showed her brain was basically a water balloon, with almost no actual ‘brain’ matter remaining. That the heart still beat was a tribute to the resiliency and amazing organism that is the human body. But it does not mean alive.
A similar legal battle has been brought recently over Jahi McMath. The California teenager dies after tonsil surgery in 2013. Nearly three years later, she is still connected to a heart-lung machine. Perhaps now there will eventually be some legal clarification of what it means to be alive? Jahi’s mother has a medical malpractice case pending trial that could set a precedent for how life and death are measured in the State of California. You see, in California, medical malpractice claims are capped at $250,000 once a patient has died. There are no limits if a patient is alive, as the necessary medical-care costs could amount to tens of millions over the subsequent decades. Jahi’s mom plans to argue in the case that Jahi is ‘alive’ and thus no cap should apply.
As Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush ordered more executions than any Governor in Florida history to that point. That record was since surpassed by current Governor Rick Scott before the end of Scott’s first term. So it is acceptable for a society to murder a criminal as retribution for a crime, but it is not acceptable in the eyes of Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature for a husband to exercise his legal right to make medical decisions for his incapacitated wife as is clearly spelled out in the state constitution? What if Jeb Bush found out after the fact that one of those he executed was innocent? Would he personally accept the blame for having killed someone or would he say he was only carrying out the jury’s orders?
When does an oath of office supersede a Christian’s obligation to follow the word of God? There is no asterisk on the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. Yet Governors such as Bush and Scott (and Rick Perry in Texas) who profess their devout Christian faith from the pulpit and from the podium not only do not bat an eye when they sign death warrant after death warrant, they seem to wear each one like a soldier would wear a combat medal.
How many Christian politicians supported Kentucky Court Clerk Kim Davis? She took a stand that her Christian beliefs outweighed the oath of office she had sworn. The bible, God’s LAW, told her that she should not obey man’s law. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee both agreed. New Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin removed the signature requirement from Kentucky marriage licenses immediately after assuming office, so now Ms. Davis can exercise her duties with a clear conscience.
Jeb Bush has also many times referred to himself as the “Most Pro-Life Governor in Modern Times” yet he supports exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother? This is a position also staked out by many Republicans. So much like Bush’s execution policy, life is sacred except when he decides it is not? While it is difficult to find anything to like about Rick Santorum’s policies, one has to admire his absolute conviction on this issue. There is no gray. If it is wrong, if it is murder, it is murder even if that child was conceived through a rape. Marco Rubio comes closest among current contenders, supporting an exception to save the mother’s life but on no other grounds.
The current standard in more than half the states prohibits abortions after 24-26 weeks. Is a fetus viable before that, at say 20 weeks? With all the recent medical advances, absolutely, in some cases. What about 12 weeks, or 6 weeks? Does life begin at conception? Does life begin at viability? Does life begin at birth?
So where then do we as a society draw the line, not on what constitutes life, but on what constitutes ending life? If someone puts a gun to your head and pulls the trigger, there can be little dispute they killed you. If someone desperate to have a child creates a dozen embryos for IVF, and only ever needs one or two, is it the same murder as the gunman pulling the trigger if the lab tech throws the other ten in the garbage? If you believe life begins at conception, it MUST be the same. But what about this: what if they just put the embryos in storage and never use them? At what point are they no longer viable? If an embryo will last in cold storage for five years, and you leave it there for ten, did you really do something different than if you had thrown it down the drain the day the others were implanted? More critically, is there really a difference between removing a feeding tube so someone slowly starves and putting a bullet in their ear? Is it less murder because it takes weeks instead of seconds?
As a parent of a daughter almost the same age Terri Schiavo was when her medical incident occurred, I certainly wonder how I would react in a similar situation. I sympathize with her parents, who raised her for 26 years and then had to sit by while her husband (and not they) made life and death decisions. I cannot say I would not do what her parents did, exhaust every avenue to wrest control back.
But like so many issues espoused by those on the extreme right, the facts and a sound argument were not enough to convince people to join the cause. So her parents lied. And they lied some more. And they accused.
There was a picture released by the Schindlers (Terri Schiavo’s parents) that purported to show her eating from a spoon. Sticking a spoon in someone’s mouth and taking a picture is not feeding. The doctors, Michael, everyone with firsthand knowledge knew the photo was a lie. Even a postmortem examination concluded beyond any question that Terri was incapable of swallowing.
Then, there is one of the most famous pictures, of Terri allegedly staring up at her mother and smiling. A person working in a department store can pose a mannequin the same way. It does not mean it actually looked at you when you walked by. The Schindlers claimed Terri reacted to their voices. She laughed. She responded to stimulation. Not only did doctors and nurses disagree (as did her husband), the doctors who examined her were conclusive in their diagnosis that she not only had no brain activity, she practically had no brain.
Terri Schiavo’s parents pointed out that as a Catholic, Terri would never willingly choose to end her own life as Michael claimed was her wish. This is an argument best left to theologians, but it again raises the same question of what is life? And to that end, what is suicide? If one has terminal cancer and makes a decision to stop treatment, how different is that really from suicide? Or what If someone so devout in their faith goes on a hunger strike, and subsequently dies of starvation? If the intent was to have your religious liberties restored and not to take your own life, is it still suicide based on the end result?
The Schindlers presented Terri’s medical records from the time of her medical incident to a specialist who offered them his opinion that the x-rays and other scans clearly showed abuse: badly bruised ribs; bruised knees and hip; head contusion. They offered this diagnosis in court to support their claim Michael had been abusive. Except the Schindlers had never told the doctor the circumstances of the materials being examined. The bruised ribs were due to the long resuscitation attempts by paramedics. The bruised legs and head the result of having fallen from a standing position when she collapsed. Once all the injuries related to her accident were eliminated, there were no remaining indicators of abuse.
Soon after announcing his primary campaign, Jeb Bush was asked about his intervention by the Tampa Bay Times. Bush replied, “It’s appropriate for people to err on the side of life. I’m completely comfortable with it.”
The most important question is, “As voters, as Americans, should WE be comfortable with it?”
Bush originally intervened by personally wiring to the judge handling the case and asking the judge to remove Michael Schiavo as guardian and to appoint a replacement. No matter which side of the battle you choose, it should still be a wake-up call to see a sitting governor intervening in an active case. At the time, Bush said, “I normally would not address a letter to the judge in a pending legal proceeding, however, my office has received over 27,000 emails reflecting understandable concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo.”
After the Florida Legislature passed “Terri’s Law” and Bush signed it, a police-escorted ambulance took her from the hospice where she was spending her final days to a hospital, where the feeding tube was reinserted.
Again, Bush told a constituent, “I honestly believe we did the right thing.”
One voice of reason (though he pushed the law through anyway) was Florida Senate president Jim King who said at the time, “I keep thinking, ‘What if Terri Schiavo really didn’t want this at all?'” For being at least mindful of the new ground the legislature was treading, King’s reward was a primary challenge from anti-abortion crusader Randall Terry who had been an active voice supporting the Schindlers.
When the Florida Supreme Court eventually ruled “Terri’s Law” unconstitutional, Bush appealed to and was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, so he turned to the United States Congress for assistance. Congress passed legislation affording the Schindlers yet another appeal, this time in federal court, but it was unsuccessful.
At one point. Congress attempted to call Terri Schiavo to testify before a committee. Why? Because as a material witness she would have federal protection, and that federal protection could have been used to reinsert the feeding tube to keep her alive so she could ‘testify’. That failed.
Finally, never one to give up, Jeb Bush parroted the debunked abuse claims in a failed effort to force the Florida Department of Children and Families to take custody. That failed as well.
The records show Terri Schiavo officially died on March 31, 2005.
Do we want a politician who will throw away the law, throw away the Constitution of the United States anytime if conflicts with his (or her) religious views? Jeb Bush far overstepped the boundaries between ‘leading’ and ‘forcing your opinion on people’ no matter how he tries to spin it.
Bush, however, seems to not be alone on this. Ted Cruz vowed recently that the word of God (the Bible) would always trump the word of man (in this case, the Constitution) and that should there be a conflict, he would do what the Bible instructs.
Though out of the race now, Mike Huckabee displayed the same clear opinion in Kentucky.
It should be noted that then-Senator Hillary Clinton is far from innocent in this. She sided with the rest of the Senate in ‘unanimous consent’ to allow the federal legislation to pass affording the Schindlers one last appeal. Clinton criticized Bush and the Florida Legislature as far back as 2006, just a year after Schiavo’s death. If she was so against the intervention, why did she not stop it? In order to rush the law through as they did, Congress not only had to pass it in the House, they had to pass it unanimously in the Senate. Anything short of unanimous would require the standard Senate rules of debate to kick in, and as Terri Schiavo was already near death, any delay would have been a death sentence. But unlike other Senate proceedings where 60 votes are required to cut off debate, or perhaps a 51 vote count is needed to approve a nomination, ONE vote was all that was required to stop this cold. Hillary Clinton had one vote. She did not cast it. So not only does she forfeit being able to criticize Jeb Bush on this issue, she should be held accountable and made to explain her hypocrisy.
The others like Clinton though are just accomplices in this injustice. That does not absolve them of blame, certainly, and they should answer for their actions.
Bush was the ringleader, the man who planned and executed the circumventing of the Florida and United States Constitutions to satisfy his own religious beliefs. He is not sorry. He thinks he did the right thing. Given the opportunity, he would do it again. That makes him too dangerous to be President.
NOTE: This post was published February 8, 2016, the day before the New Hampshire primary. Jeb Bush had finished 6th in Iowa a week earlier and would only improve to 4th in New Hampshire. After again finishing 4th in the South Carolina primary on February 20, 2016, Jeb Bush exited the 2016 race for the Republican nomination. Jahi McMath died June 22, 2018.