Monday, June 20, 2005

Any Shame in Sight?

I'm continuing to catch up from last week, and in the process, I was alerted to this column from John Grogan, metro columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, that is too good not to include here (property of Knight-Ridder and PNI).

Michael Schiavo, A Man Wronged

The world owes Michael Schiavo an apology. President Bush owes him one. Congress owes him one. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the President's brother, owes him one.

So does House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who shamelessly grandstanded on the Schiavo case to deflect attention from his own ethics scandal, famously declaring that Terri Schiavo "talks and she laughs."

And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a cardiologist who blithely proclaimed the former Montgomery County woman to be mentally responsive based on his viewing of a family video of her. (Now I know why he's practicing politics instead of medicine.)

And Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum, who turned a fund-raising trip to Florida into an opportunity to pander to his conservative base outside Terri Schiavo's hospice.

In their rush to prolong Terri Schiavo's profoundly compromised life, they not only ran roughshod over states' rights and judicial rights, but over a husband's right to act in what he believed was the best interest of his irreversibly brain-damaged wife.

The antiabortion agitators and end-of-life meddlers and self-righteous pontificators who hijacked an incapacitated woman for their own agendas, turning what always should have been a private family matter into a national circus, owe Michael Schiavo an apology, too.

A reputation trampled

Has any husband ever been so vilified and excoriated, so impugned by innuendo and rumor, simply for trying to honor what he said was his wife's wish?

I owe him an apology, as well.

I allowed myself to be swayed by the relentless whispers and slanders spread by those who made Terri Schiavo's unconscious life their obsession.

The rumors flew through cyberspace, sticking as they went: Just maybe Michael had choked and beaten his wife in a failed murder attempt... Just maybe his violence, not an eating disorder, had caused the brain damage, and now he was trying to cover his tracks by insisting she be allowed to die... Just maybe he wanted the insurance settlement, or to have her out of the way so he could remarry.

I did not advance the rumors as truth, but I did let them color my thinking and lead me to question his motives. Now we know, based on an exhaustive autopsy released Tuesday, that Michael Schiavo was pretty much on target all along.

The autopsy confirmed what Schiavo has long maintained - that his wife was profoundly and irreversibly brain-damaged and no amount of therapy was ever going to change that.

Her brain had atrophied and shrunken to half its normal size. She was blind, dispelling her parents' emotional assertion that their daughter could recognize them and follow a balloon with her eyes.

No signs of foul play

The autopsy also put to rest the ugly rumors. It found no evidence of physical abuse or mistreatment. No strangulation, no broken bones, no poisons, no suspicious marks. So much for all those titillating theories.

We may never know why Terri Schiavo's heart stopped beating in 1990 at the age of 26, but there is no indication the cause was anything but natural. Michael Schiavo was not always his own best advocate. He could come off as abrasive and defensive. But, given the concerted daily attacks on his character, can anyone blame him?

Many Americans were quick to crucify him, and for what? For wanting to let his wife's life end with a shred of dignity after all hope of recovery was gone. For wanting to move on with his own life. For having children with another woman and wanting to remarry.

Spouses die; their survivors move on. But in this long, sad case, the limbo between life and death stretched for 15 interminable years. Michael Schiavo finally deserves peace.

Those who set out to destroy him in a warped effort to preserve a life already gone deserve shame, but I won't hold my breath.

As an unrepentant Randall Terry, the antiabortion protester who interjected himself into the middle of this debacle, told Newsday this week: "Our contention all along is you err on the side of life."

And, oh, how we erred.
Also, E.J. Dionne had some (I believe) appropriate thoughts in a similar vein.

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