Thursday, April 07, 2005

Marriage Law and the Schiavo Case

Until now, I haven't blogged about the Schiavo case--and for good reason. First, I think most of us are sick of it. Second, it's hard to form an opinion when it's nearly impossible to filter fact from propaganda.

But as I watched The McLaughlin Group last Sunday (4/03/05), I heard an interesting point brought up by Lawrence O'Donnell, a strong Democrat. I assumed he would defend Michael Schiavo. But instead, he said something quite different.

[From the transcript. Emphasis added to O'Donnell's comments.]
MR. O'DONNELL: ...But the legal adjustment that should be made is the ridiculous way that marriage law in the United States confers rights to people. The notion that Michael Schiavo alone, who is in effect married to someone else and having children with someone else, gets to still, through the thread of marriage law, decide whether she lives or dies is utterly preposterous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who should do it?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, I promise you that my daughter's pre-nup will specify that the husband not only does not get to decide about her feeding tube; he doesn't even get a vote. If you have a division between parents and spouses over what's to go forward, I am with the parents.

MR. BLANKLEY: In the Schiavo case, obviously I'm going to be with the parents. And the law, I think -- again, I think we have a lot of debate over whether what she said is going to be the new modification or not. For some of us who trust our wives more than anyone else on the planet, I would want to have it there.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, specify it.

MR. BLANKLEY: But what I'm saying is --

MR. O'DONNELL: But you should be able to put someone else in charge.

MR. BUCHANAN: One of the things I think is going to come out of it is a real war on the judges. I think there's a real feeling, John, on the part of an awful lot of people --


MR. BUCHANAN: -- that this judge sentenced this woman to death. And she didn't die a natural death of the brain damage. She died of starvation and a lack of water when her parents and her--

MR. O'DONNELL: The laws were very well applied. It's the crazy connecting thread of marriage law that killed her.

MR. BUCHANAN: But the parents and the others could not bring water to a dying daughter. And the American people do not want that type of thing to happen again, as you said earlier. But there's going to be a war over these judges, Supreme Court judges and appellate court judges, and it's going to be a bloodbath.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Looked at through a political lens, who was the political winner, the Democrats or the Republicans?

MR. O'DONNELL: There's no political winner here at all. And the judges did a perfectly good job of interpreting, first of all, marriage law, which exclusively granted Michael Schiavo the decision-making power here, and then evaluating all the other things that were legitimately able to be brought in front of them. I don't think enough was brought in front of them. I think there were some very strange questions left open here. But that's the way the law -- [interrupted]

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael Schiavo -- is he a winner? We've heard
what O'Donnell said.

MR. O'DONNELL: He's not a winner to me.

MS. CLIFT: We're not going to change -- he's been demonized, but we're not going to change the marriage laws in this country. We still believe in the --

MR. O'DONNELL: He's been questioned based on very legitimate evidentiary questions in the background of this case. And I think what we have here is a situation where we have to decide as a population, when there's a disagreement among seemingly rational family members, parents versus spouses, how is that resolved? And why should there be a legal prejudice in favor of a spouse, which in this country is a frequently temporary relationship, and certainly was in that case?
I have no idea whether Terri Schiavo was a "vegetable" or not, and I am ashamed that our society has made such a spectacle of her condition. The issue I'm concerned with here is whether or not marriage law should be changed in this regard. Should Michael Schiavo have had the sole power to make this decision? I'm not so sure.

Then again, I'm certainly not happy with how "the right" has handled this issue either. Reason's Cathy Young makes some good points in Lifers on the Loose: The appalling rhetoric in the Schiavo case.

Marriage might be temporary, but it is also chosen. When there's conflict between an individual's choice and an accident of birth - well, it should be no contest.
Another possible solution: Let whomever is thinking about their future decide who gets to decide (parents, spouse, child, friend). The 'overriding vote' should be cast by whomever the (now) dying person WANTED to cast it...

Of course, in cases where this isn't decided ahead of time, one still needs a rule of thumb(or law) to go by.
Laci Peterson was married to Scott and it wasn't okay for him to decide her life was over. Michael Schiavo's motives may have been, probably were, pure, but just assuming they were because he was married to her is ridiculous. (And Yami McMoots, Laci's marriage to Scott was chosen also.)
Unfortunately, Tom, the fact that your moral code doesn't distinguish between ending life support and hacking someone to bits and throwing their body in the ocean doesn't make that a relevant analogy.
A feeding tube is not generally considered to be life support.
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