Sunday, October 26, 2003

The case of Terri Schiavo, a profoundly brain-damaged Florida woman whose husband wants to disconnect her feeding tube so that she may die--and whose parents and siblings want to keep her alive--is one of those hard cases that ought to give even the most self-assured moral thinker pause to consider other perspectives. Ideally, one might hope for a rich public debate on the subject, leading to a democratic consensus as to the necessary conditions for concluding that someone ought not be kept alive, and the proper role of various parties' preferences in determining that decision.

At least that's what one would hope for if one were not a fanatical devotee of American Legal Religion. But here's Slate's Dahlia Lithwick foaming at the mouth over the people's representatives' unbearable uppitiness in daring to pronounce on the issue:
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.

Since 1990, when the Supreme Court decided Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health, there has been a constitutionally protected right to decline unwanted medical procedures. How does the Florida Legislature justify overriding that decision and its own Constitution—which guarantees a right to privacy and allows residents or their legal guardians to terminate life support—by enacting a "law" that expressly violates that right? And how dare Jeb Bush call for the appointment of a new guardian for Schiavo? The courts have already named one—her husband.
To Lithwick, the courts make the law; any so-called "law" produced by mere legislators is insolent usurpation of judicial prerogatives, and should be ignored. One wonders how Americans can ever hope to establish democracy in Iraq, when this kind of rank contempt for it is so commonplace back home.

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