A Political Circus Comes to Its Personal Close

Terri Schiavo is gone

George Bush's change of heart should resolve any doubt that, at least on the president's part, the Terri Schiavo showdown was a matter of politics rather than principle. While the religious conservatives pushing to "save" Schiavo insisted that she wasn't in a persistent vegetative state and had a chance of improving, most want a person in her condition kept alive no matter the prognosis. "Her worth in God's eyes makes her physical condition truly irrelevant," as the Focus on the Family website put it. The connection between a woman with no cognitive function and other people's fetuses and embryos isn't lost on Operation Rescue, the National Right to Life Committee, the Pro-Life Action League, and the like, which have shifted their single-minded obsessiveness from abortion to Schiavo.

Taking on the Schiavo case was supposed to give the Bushes an opportunity to appease the religious conservatives who put them into office. The problem for the stop-at-nothing brothers, though, is that the conservative Catholics and evangelicals fixated on Schiavo are even further out of the mainstream when it comes to the right to die than they are on abortion. While some people are truly torn about what restrictions should apply when dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, few think anyone should be forced to hover on the edges of existence if they don't want to and have no chance of recovery. Nearly 80 percent of Americans wouldn't want to be kept alive in Terri's situation, according to an ABC News poll. Even more opposed federal intervention in the Schiavo case, including 72 percent of Republicans, according to a CBS News poll. Meanwhile, the president's approval rating is falling, having just hit 43 percent, down from 49 last month.

Talk about a great political issue! A clear winner finally landed in the Democrats' lap. Unfortunately, few seemed to recognize it. No senator, Democrat or Republican, stopped the legislation giving Schiavo's parents the opportunity to take the case to federal court. Forty-seven Democrats supported the bill in the House. And even Howard Dean, head of the Democratic Party, seemed to roll over, offering no comment when asked about Bush's support of the law.

It's hard to imagine what exactly the party, having lost control of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House, stood to lose by coming down on the side of legal precedent and the overwhelming majority of the public. Indeed, negative consequences of the Schiavo circus seem more likely to befall those who have played dead than those who were playing superhero. The vast majority of people who supported her right to die don't have the combination of real power and delusion that allows the Bush brothers to wreak havoc in people's personal lives, but at least we can vote.


Sharon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Center for New York City Affairs at Milano Graduate School, New School University.

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