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Congress Makes Mockery of Private, Dignified Death
Published on Thursday, March 24, 2005 by the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
Congress Makes Mockery of Private, Dignified Death
by Judy Ettenhofer

Congress' public humiliation of Terri Schiavo comes at the same time that my husband and I had to decide to end our cat's life.

Somehow I've lived to ripe middle age without having to face "putting down" a pet. But there was no other choice: At almost 17 years old, he developed a nasal lymphoma that was growing rapidly.

Given the emotion we're going through at losing a much-loved pet, I can't imagine how terribly a family suffers when told a beloved wife and daughter is brain-damaged beyond hope of recovery.

That Terri Schiavo's family, both her husband and her parents, have battled each other for more than a decade over whether to end Terri's life is incomprehensible.

That Republican politicians have now seized upon what should be a private family matter to score points with the so-called "moral values" crowd is unconscionable.

Earlier this week, my husband attended a listening session with U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., at the VFW hall in Arena. He told me that Feingold described the congressional Republican majority as "drunk with power" in these giddy days of total GOP control in Washington.

What an apt description.

Even the most casual news observer recognizes the numerous critical problems facing American society, yet the Republicans swept all of them aside for a melodrama played out on C-SPAN Sunday night as U.S. House members took to the microphone for self-righteous speeches on Terri Schiavo's "right to life."

Personally, I thought Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., got it right: "We're not doctors, we just play them on C-SPAN. All kinds of members (of Congress) are making factual statements they have no idea on."

Indeed, the Schiavo case has to be one of the most complex right-to-die sagas in the country, with the ugly complication of an alleged dispute over money - a medical malpractice settlement Terri's husband, Michael, received in 1992 and claimed Terri's parents wanted a cut of.

There's no justifiable reason for Congress to enter this family battle at this late date - 15 years after Terri suffered brain damage from a heart attack - except that the poor woman has become the poster child for the right-to-life movement's efforts to prevent the rest of us from having any control over our own deaths.

And that cause fits neatly into a goal of the power-drunk Republicans, fueled by their conservative Christian base, to remake the federal judiciary into a tool to help achieve their sweeping right-wing agenda.

Again Barney Frank cut to the heart of matter. The intervention by Congress in the Schiavo case, he said, undercuts Republican complaints that activist judges are overstepping their bounds. "This is a federal judge instructed by Congress to ignore everything that's gone on in the state (of Florida)," he said. "It's the Republicans who are trying to command judicial activism and dictate outcomes when they don't like" rulings.

Fortunately, the wise federal judge - a Republican - who heard Terri's parents' request Monday to reinsert her feeding tube used the law and not political activism as the basis for his refusal. So did a majority of a three-judge 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Atlanta early Wednesday.

Feingold suggested at his listening session Monday that citizens are becoming restive and that grass-roots groups are beginning to rise up against the stunningly imperious behavior of the GOP-led Congress. Certainly, polls show a large majority of Americans think Congress exceeded its role with the 11th-hour intervention in the Schiavo case.

Will this stumble start the sobering up of Republicans in Washington? Or will it take an indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for fund-raising abuses? Perhaps it will be a wholesale rejection by citizens of President Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security.

In the meantime, I will ensure that my cat has an honored death, and pray that our elected representatives in Congress never again have the audacity to wrench the last shred of dignity from a helpless American the way they did with Terri Schiavo.

© 2005 Capital Times


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