The battle over Terri Schiavo has been framed as a battle between the radical right which seeks to uphold the sanctity of life, and the left which focuses on an individual's fundamental right to self-determination.
In this case, however, the right has framed it correctly. There is no issue of self-determination, since their is no clear directive to act upon, and Terri is not able to express a preference. Even if Terri had made an off hand comment about what she would prefer, people who acquire a disability typically decide that living "that way" is far superior to dying. It is not up to a judge, a spouse, or a politician to determine when someone else should be rubbed out.
This has not been one of those "difficult cases" of end of life care, since Terri was not chronicly ill. She was not in pain (until they starved her). She was not kept alive artificially (unless you consider food and water artificial). She was not on a "machine" (a tube is merely a fork or spoon for people who can't swallow). Terri was a person with a disability. She was apparently conscious. And she was certainly alive. Since when has it become a progressive position to deny a person the right to their very existence?
Progressives, should not be suckered into an oppose position, because the right is grandstanding. Progressives have a proud history of defending those who cannot defend themselves, seeking to give voice to the needs of the voiceless, and fighting for life over death. It is the right wing that promotes a culture of death, waging a war of aggression, torturing and murdering prisoners of war, supporting the death penalty, and seeking to roll back funding for health care for seniors and the poor.
The powerful have long dehumanized other classes races or groups. And starving to death Terri Schiavo embodies the prejudice and misperceptions of disability that are prevalent in our society, just as similar dehumanizing attitudes have led to the aweful oppression of other minorities.
Progressives need to be consistent and recognize the sanctity of life is more than a political ploy of the fascists in power. Life is fundamental to the progressive position. And Terri Schiavo was a life, with an inherent dignity and an incalculable worth.
Mark Polit has been a disability rights activist for over two decades and currently does research and policy analysis in disability policy for a major US labor union.