Thursday, March 24, 2005

An Abyss At Our Feet

The Schiavo case reveals a void in American justice with regard to the severely disabled.

Up until now, it has been assumed that in any dispute involving institutional care of the senile, insane, or disabled, that the courts would provide a strong, skeptical, and thorough guardian of the absolute rights of the infirm.

Such has not been the case, and I have to wonder how deep the rot runs. Apart from 2 judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges in this case refuse to acknowledge that Terri Schiavo has any presumption of the right to life, and that a court order to end her life through deliberate neglect represents any "serious harm" to anybody.

California residents will remember the circuses that attend any attempt to execute murderers in this state. There's never any question of slavish respect for a trial verdict when it comes to murder. There's never any question of delaying the death of the person involved for the most far-fetched appeal. There's never any question whether a medical conclusion from a previous decade needs review--not when the trial was criminal and the action is direct execution as punishment.

But when an heir seeks permission to kill a relative through neglect, based on an unwitnessed verbal communication, the courts seem to roll over. Michael Schiavo couldn't have touched a penny of premarital property based on a verbal promise from Terri to help himself--but that's good enough to kill her.

In all of this, the judges--apart from the worthy exceptions of Judges Tjoflat and Wilson--have acted as though the burden is on the Schindlers to prove why Terri deserves to live. The 14th Amendment would seem to require a bias in favor of preserving a citizen's life.

What is needed now is a massive federal intervention in the affairs of state courts, on the scale of the Civil Voting Rights Act, for exactly the same reasons. Congress was granted authority to intervene against state governments to protect citizens, back in 1867 with the 14th Amendment. When state courts are willing to issue death warrants based on hearsay from financially-interested third-parties, and the federal courts feign neutrality, then we are facing systemic abuse of citizens in long-term inpatient care.

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