Dispatches from the Creation Wars

No Concern for Truth or Consistency

The state trial judge in the Terry Schiavo case, George Greer, has shown incredible fortitude in the face of villification and even death threats. The FBI has arrested a man for putting out a $250,000 bounty on the head of Michael Schiavo and a $50,000 bounty on the head of Judge Greer. It’s not the only threat he has received, and Greer and his family must now be under constant armed guard. This is a perfect example of how religious extremists will eat their own in the cause of their own extremism. Greer is a conservative Republican and a devout Southern Baptist. And he is doing exactly what the law requires him to do. But now his church has asked him to leave because they disagree with his actions and he’s getting death threats from those who are allegedly “pro-life”.

There is so much irony here on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. Pro-lifers threatening to kill people. States rights advocates clamoring for Congress to overturn a specific state court decision and assert federal authority where it has never belonged. Those who scream about “judicial activism” now complaining that a judge refuses to flout the law and just arbitrarily decide that regardless of the factual determination in the case he’s going to do whatever he wants. So much hypocrisy that one can scarcely exaggerate it. The great comedian Bill Hicks, in a routine about the prospect of “pro-lifers” killing doctors performed shortly before he died, liked to say, “That’s what fundamentalism breeds – no irony.”

The fact is that the rank and file religious right has been taken on a joyride of emotional overload with the Terri Schiavo situation. Virtually every claim put out in the conservative media over the last few weeks has been false. How many of these claims have you heard over the last few days or weeks?

Michael squandered the money set aside for Terri’s care. Absolutely false. In fact, all of the jury award that was set aside for her medical care was used up years ago, and both the trial judge and the Guardian Ad Litem appointed by Gov. Bush have noted that Michael has been extraordinarily attentive to her care, to the point where his attention to detail and demand for quality care was so acute that he was described as a “nursing home administrator’s nightmare.”

Michael wants her dead so he can pocket the rest of the money. As noted above, there is no money to be pocketed. More importantly, Michael has been offered $1 million to divorce Terri and let her parents take custody of her. Those who made that offer are idiots, of course, because they don’t realize that even if that were to happen it would change absolutely nothing about the legal situation. The courts have determined that Terri herself would not want to be kept alive in this situation, and they have ordered that it be done. Michael didn’t make that legal ruling, the courts did. And the parents cannot stop that, regardless of whether Michael has guardianship or not. But the point is, Michael turned down the offer.

Lots of people have to be on feeding tubes, so if Terri is killed the next thing you know the courts will be unplugging everyone who has a feeding tube. This is perhaps the dumbest argument of all. And it’s the same argument we heard with Karen Ann Quinlan in the 70s. If it was true, there should be a literal killing field of dead people being unplugged willy nilly by the courts. But that hasn’t happened. Why? Because the law doesn’t allow it, and never will. The key fact is not the feeding tube. There are two key facts in this case – the medical reality that she is never going to recover and Terri’s expressed wishes. The first is absolutely incontrovertible, despite the flood of misinformation coming from the right wing media. The second was adjudicated on the basis of the testimony of several different people, not just Michael. That’s why we don’t try cases in the media but in a courtroom, where testimony is subject to cross examination. There are lots of people who have to use feeding tubes for a period of time while recovering from a condition, but when the person is braindead and their brain has largely liquified, there is no recovery – period, end of discussion. Anyone who thinks that because of this case the courts are going to start yanking out the feeding tubes of anyone who has them, without the other key facts in the case being present as well, is engaged in nothing short of delusional paranoia.

Person X was in a coma and woke up after 20 years, so that proves Terri can do the same thing. The media has trotted out a litany of such people, but the situations are not comparable. A person in a coma is not braindead. They still have brainwaves; Terri doesn’t. None of the people who have been brought forward had half their brain necrotized and replaced with fluid, or had a dead flat EEG for 13 years. The facts simply are not comparable, but of course they keep up the pretense that they are.

All of those claims, and many more, are flat out false. And that doesn’t even include the sham doctors who have made pronouncements without any basis for doing so. Again, this is why you try cases in court and not in the media. It’s easy for Dr. Hammesfahr to go on a friendly TV show, with a host slobbering all over him and calling him a “Nobel Prize nominee” every 10 seconds, to make all sorts of outlandish claims. He can go on TV and claim to have helped people in far worse shape than Terri. But in court, unlike on television, he actually has to support those claims with evidence. In court, they can subpeona his patient records and point out, for example, that he’s never treated PVS patients at all, only stroke patients. In court, he can be asked under oath if he can produce even a single case study, or any test results or medical records at all, that support his claim. And judges can point out that his answer to that question is that he could not do so.

It’s easy for a grieving mother to go on television and claim that Terri told her that she wouldn’t want to be disconnected after seeing a news report on Karen Ann Quinlan when she was in college. But in court, it gets pointed out that Terri was only 11 years old when Quinlan died, not in college, and the mother has to admit that she doesn’t really know what was said or when it was said. In court, unlike on television, it can be pointed out when a witness suddenly has perfect recall of events 15 years in the past for which she said she had no recollection only a few weeks earlier in a deposition. All of those things happened in this case, but since the masses only know what they see on television and haven’t bothered to read the trial proceedings and rulings, they don’t know that. So they’ve swallowed whole a bunch of half-truths and falsehoods and, quite literally, built a federal case out of it.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Claybourn
    March 28, 2005

    Well said. I wish every network anchor would take a few minutes and read this post once for the audience and dispense with all of the ignorance.

  2. #2 Lynn
    March 28, 2005

    I totally agree with you Joshua. This was so perfectly worded and just about covers it all.
    The one thing I think we all should be grateful for this that Terri isn’t aware how her face and life has been plastered all over the media. She was a charming and delightful person from what her husband has said. But he also stated how shy she was.
    I hope her soul is resting in peace through all this attention.
    And thank you honey for posting such a marvelous article.

  3. #3 Dave S.
    March 28, 2005

    I was wondering about Jeb Bush’s role in all this. Didn’t he swear an oath before God to uphold and defend the Constitution of the State of Florida? And doesn’t that constitution provide an explicit right to privacy, vis Art. I, Sect. 23: “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into his private life except as otherwise provided herein.”?

    Now it seems to me that Gov. Bush must have known or at least had been advised that what he was doing (with “Terri’s Law”) was blatantly unconstitutional. or if he didn’t know, he must have been willfully ignorant to the nth degree. Or perhaps that he didn’t really care if it was unconstitutional or not. I can’t decide which option is least worse.

  4. #4 eon
    March 28, 2005

    Ed:

    This is some of the finest writing on the subject that I have seen thus far.

    Scott

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    March 28, 2005

    The funny thing is that I started off to write just a quick blurb about the death threats against Judge Greer and kept rambling on. I thought it was rather disjointed myself and thought I really should wait to post it until I have more time to make it more coherent and put in links to the various documents. Maybe I’ll do that yet.

  6. #6 David S
    March 28, 2005

    Also with all the comments about ‘unelected judges’, they do elect judges in this Florida court and Judge Greeg was elected to a second six-year term!

    http://www.sptimes.com/2005/03/06/Tampabay/Quiet_judge_persists_.shtml

  7. #7 Mark Paris
    March 28, 2005

    The general media, not just the conservative media, have contributed to the hysteria. Why is it page-one news on a Monday morning that Terri Schiavo is deteriorating? They keep the pot stirred because stirred pots sell. Will it be like Saturday Night Live after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died? Every Saturday they would intone, “This just in: Francisco Franco is still dead.”

  8. #8 David S
    March 28, 2005

    Also with all the comments about ‘unelected judges’, they do elect judges in this Florida court and Judge Greer was elected in 2004 to a third six-year term!

    This is a nice writeup in the SP Times.

    http://www.sptimes.com/2005/03/06/Tampabay/Quiet_judge_persists_.shtml

    [with corrections]

  9. #9 KeithB
    March 28, 2005

    I thought it was a bit of a low blow, but the LA Times had an article about DeLay. IT seems that he was in a similar situation many years ago and had to remove his own father from Life Support. Though it appears that Dad was on a respirator, which seems to make a difference for a reason I don’t understand.

  10. #10 Matthew
    March 28, 2005

    You should go on reuters and watch some of the videos of the protestors if you want a good laugh.

  11. #11 Michelangelo
    March 29, 2005

    Ed,

    I didn’t see this particular post as “disjointed” at all…I thought it was quite well written, in fact.

    I used to be on the “Save Terri” side until I did what everyone should do, which is read the actual court documents. Now when I see these “pro-life” hypocrites on TV or hear them on talk radio I know they have little concern for the truth and are simply using Terri Schiavo for their own ends. She has become a non-person. Sad.

  12. #12 raj
    March 29, 2005

    The post was well written, but I have a very minor nit to pick.

    From the post:

    “Michael squandered the money set aside for Terri’s care.” Absolutely false. In fact, all of the jury award that was set aside for her medical care was used up years ago, and both the trial judge and the Guardian Ad Litem appointed by Gov. Bush have noted that Michael has been extraordinarily attentive to her care, to the point where his attention to detail and demand for quality care was so acute that he was described as a “nursing home administrator’s nightmare.”

    From what I have read, not exactly. The last part is correct. But, first, from what I have read, the “award” was from a settlement of the case after a jury verdict but while the case was on appeal. I don’t know what relationship the settlement had to the jury’s verdict. Second, there were actually settlements to two claims. One was for malpractice in regards TS, which was for US$750K. The second was for US$300K to MS for his loss of consortium (I guess they still award damages for that that down in FL). The former was put into a trust fund to pay for TS’s care. The amount remaining in the trust fund is on the order of US$50-60,000, so, even if MS stood to inherit the remainder, he would not become a wealthy man. And, according to the report from the GaL (guardian ad litem) appointed by Gov. Bush, TS’s care has been very good.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    March 29, 2005

    raj-

    According to Wolfson’s Guardian Ad Litem report, Michael formally offered to divest himself of the trust fund set aside for her care. At any rate, he has no control over the funds, they are under the control of a bank in Florida. According to the news reports, the hospice she is in currently is picking up the cost of her care themselves because there is no more money in the trust fund. So I think it’s all gone now.

  14. #14 Mike
    March 29, 2005

    Just wanted to add a few things from MedPageToday.com

    • CT scans in 1996 and 2002 revealed extreme atrophy.
    • An EEG done on July 8, 2002, demonstrated “no evidence of cerebral activity” and another on Oct. 4, 2002, did not reveal any definite brain activity although most of the tracing was “obscured by artifact from muscle and eye movement.”
    • A deep brain stimulator was placed in Ms. Schiavo’s brain on Dec. 12, 1990, but this experimental procedure did not result in any improvement in her condition. The procedure was done at the request of Michael Schiavo, who flew his wife to San Francisco for the operation.

    And I agree, this was a great write-up on the case.