Monday, March 21, 2005

Crap. Someone handed me a ten-foot pole.

I was trying not to say a thing about the whole Terry Schiavo affair, because I find the entire thing so bizarrely surreal that I can barely decide what to say about it. But I followed Bella's lead to this post by Holly Lisle -- who once speculated on a former version of her blog that the whole issue descends from a botched attempted murder by Michael Schiavo -- where Ms. Lisle insists that since Terry Schiavo never put her wishes in writing, the current case in its entirety should never have existed at all:

Schiavo's case should never have been a case. Lacking any sort of documentation stating that she wanted to be permitted to die, every effort should have been made to save her life and return her to her highest level of function. Everything -- EVERYTHING -- has been done wrong because of her husband's talent for publicizing the aspects of the case that he wanted publicized. In the end, however, this is, in fact, a no-brainer. No documentation = presumption that she wanted to live, and follow-on treatment to make that possible.

Strange that successions of Florida state judges have managed to completely miss this bit of obvious legality. Or, maybe it's not so strange after all, because Ms. Lisle is stone, cold wrong, as Dahlia Lithwick once explained:

One needn't take a position on the right-to-life/right-to-die controversy to be appalled by the events in Florida. Whether one believes that Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state" or a "minimally conscious state" is immaterial. Whether one believes that her blinks and smiles are signs of cognition or automated reflexes is similarly not the issue. All that matters is that these disputes are governed by law, that the law says Michael Schiavo is her legal guardian, and that his decision ought to have been final.

For the actual legal background of the case -- i.e., not Ms. Lisle's legal opinion based on what somebody in nursing school said one day -- read Ms. Lithwick's entire article. The Schiavo case did not arise in a legal void, and the various judges involved did not make it up as they went along. As judges do, they followed established legal precedent, and that precedent is this: In the absence of Ms. Lisle's written documentation, decision-making power is handed to a court-appointed legal guardian, who is almost always the spouse.

As long as I'm commenting on this whole affair, I note that Ms. Lisle accuses Michael Schiavo of basically being a publicity-hound. I suppose that Mr. Schiavo may just be that, but I note that he's not the one who has the Majority Leader of the United States Senate making medical diagnoses from watching a videotape. Say what you will about Michael Schiavo, he hasn't managed to get high-profile Republicans to make medical diagnoses on his behalf outside their medical specialty without ever seeing the patient in person. And I note that for a case where Ms. Lisle maintains that Mr. Schiavo is the publicity hound, the photograph that accompanies every single story I've seen or watched on TV about this case is the one where Terry Schiavo is "smiling" to her mother. If Mr. Schiavo is the publicity genius, he's not doing too well at it.

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