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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Monday, March 28, 2005  

Now playing: "St. James Infirmary," by Louis Armstrong

* * *

For some months we have been hearing reports that, on the orders of Berlin, patients from mental asylums who have been ill for a long time and may appear incurable, are being compulsorily removed. Then, after a short time, the relatives are regularly informed that the corpse has been burnt and the ashes can be delivered. There is a general suspicion verging on certainty, that these numerous unexpected deaths of mentally ill people do not occur of themselves but are deliberately brought about, that the doctrine is being followed, according to which one may destroy so-called 'worthless life,' that is, kill innocent people if one considers that their lives are of no further value for the nation and the state.

-- Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, Germany, August 1941

Q. But is anyone arguing that for Schiavo to die would be an "unmitigated evil"? They just don't want her death to happen unnecessarily.

Paris: It's not happening unnecessarily. It's happening because her heart attack has rendered her utterly incapable of any future human relationships.

-- Fr John Paris, SJ, Jesuit "bioethicist," March 2005

Salon: So what do you think this case is really about?

Rev. John Paris, S.J.: The power of the Christian right. This case has nothing to do with the legal issues involving a feeding tube.

-- Fr Paris, again

* * *

How did things come to such a pass in the Schiavo case?

A Florida attorney cites a surfeit of lawyers, guns and money on the husband's side at the trial-court level:

I have been following the case for years. Something that interests me about the Terri Schiavo case, and that doesn't seem to have gotten much media attention: The whole case rests on the fact that the Schindlers (Terri's parents) were totally outlawyered by the husband (Michael Schiavo) at the trial court level.

This happened because, in addition to getting a $750K judgment for Terri's medical care, Michael Schiavo individually got a $300K award of damages for loss of consortium, which gave him the money to hire a top-notch lawyer to represent him on the right-to-die claim. He hired George Felos, who specializes in this area and litigated one of the landmark right-to-die cases in Florida in the early 90s.

By contrast, the Schindlers had trouble even finding a lawyer who would take their case since there was no money in it. Finally they found an inexperienced lawyer who agreed to take it partly out of sympathy for them, but she had almost no resources to work with and no experience in this area of the law. She didn't even depose Michael Schiavo's siblings, who were key witnesses at the trial that decided whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive. Not surprisingly, Felos steamrollered her.

The parents obviously had no idea what they were up against until it was too late. It was only after the trial that they started going around to religious and right-to-life groups to tell their story. These organizations were very supportive, but by that point their options were already limited because the trial judge had entered a judgment finding that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to live.

This fact is of crucial importance -- and it's one often not fully appreciated by the media, who like to focus on the drama of cases going to the big, powerful appeals courts: Once a trial court enters a judgment into the record, that judgment's findings become THE FACTS of the case, and can only be overturned if the fact finder (in this case, the judge) acted capriciously (i.e., reached a conclusion that had essentially no basis in fact).

In this case, the trial judge simply chose to believe Michael Schiavo's version of the facts over the Schindlers'. Since there was evidence to support his conclusion (in the form of testimony from Michael Schiavo's siblings), it became nearly impossible for the Schindlers to overturn it. The judges who considered the case after the trial-level proceeding could make decisions only on narrow questions of law. They had no room to ask, "Hey, wait a minute, would she really want to die?" That "fact" had already been decided.

In essence, the finding that Terri Schiavo would want to die came down to the subjective opinion of one overworked trial judge who was confronted by a very sharp, experienced right-to-die attorney on one side and a young, quasi-pro bono lawyer on the other.

Nothing unusual about this, of course. It's the kind of thing that happens all the time. But it's an interesting point to keep in mind when you read that the Schiavo case has been litigated for years and has been reviewed by dozens of judges . . . yadda yadda yadda.

Interesting. (Via Power Line and The Inn.)

* * *

Worth a visit: Professor Bainbridge, a UCLA corporate-law prof and wine-fancier whose blog is thought-provoking and witty: See his take on Andrew Sullivan, and a Nader exchange that evokes Churchill and the Italian Army.

* * *

John Leo describes how bioethics has come to be the province of Peter Singer and Fr "Pull the Plug" Paris:

The underlying red-blue issue involves the current state of bioethics. Many of the founders of this relatively new field were religiously motivated. Daniel Callahan, a former colleague of mine at the Catholic magazine Commonweal, cofounded the Hastings Center. Sargent Shriver and the Kennedy family launched the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. But the bioethics world turned rigorously secular and veered sharply to the blue section of the color spectrum.

A key factor in the rise of bioethics, Callahan wrote, was the "emergence ideologically of a form of bioethics that dovetailed nicely with the reigning political liberalism of the educated classes in America." Instead of the traditional emphasis on the sanctity of life, bioethics began to stress the quality of life, meaning that many damaged humans, young and old, don't qualify for personhood because their lives have lost value. The nonpersons should be allowed to die and in some cases be killed.

This explains why so few bioethicists have protested what the state and her husband planned for Terri Schiavo, who is severely damaged, but not in pain or dying, not brain-dead, and in no position to protest her own execution on grounds that other people consider it best for her.

Bioethics has hardened into an activist ideology that pervades the medical world, the schools and government. This explains why Leon Kass, a moderate conservative who heads the president's committee on bioethics, is under such fierce attack and why Princeton University picked Peter Singer as its first scholar in bioethics. Singer thinks parents should be able to kill disabled newborns.

* * *

UPDATE: According to Florida campaign finance records, Judge Greer's re-election campaign in 2004 received contributions from both Felos & Felos, the "right-to-die" law firm representing Michael Schiavo, and the firm of DiVito & Higham, general counsel to the Diocese of St. Petersburg. To paraphrase the otherwise largely mute Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg, can't we all just get along? (Via Myopic Zeal and Dawn Eden)


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