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.