Schiavo political circus exercise in hypocrisy

By Leonard Pitts

There were no network news bulletins when Sun Hudson died. No army of protesters keeping vigil outside the hospital, no statement from the president, no comment from the House majority leader.

Instead, he died quietly, resting in his mother’s arms. This was on March 15. Had he lived 10 more days, Sun would have been 6 months old.

Doctors say he had a genetic deformity, a lethal form of dwarfism in which the lungs do not grow large enough to support life. Doctors felt that further treatment was futile. His mother, Wanda, argued that all he needed was time to develop. The court sided with the doctors and allowed them to disconnect the ventilator.

This is allowed in Texas under the Advance Directives Act, signed into law in 1999 by Gov. George W. Bush.

On the day Sun Hudson died, the U.S. Congress was considering emergency legislation designed to prolong the life — or, perhaps more accurately, the existence — of another person for whom doctors felt treatment was futile. Theresa Schiavo’s brain had been destroyed when she fell ill in 1990. They said she was no longer sentient, no longer aware of her own existence and the kindest thing to do was remove the tube supplying her with nutrition and water. Her husband, citing her wishes, agreed.

The Congress, which never met her, did not. So it passed — and the president signed — legislation removing the issue from Florida state courts and placing it in the jurisdiction of the federal system. It was an extraordinary end-run around the Constitution — since when do legislators give orders to the judiciary? — but it did not have the desired effect. Federal judges upheld the right of one spouse to make end-of-life decisions for another.

Indeed, Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. scolded the president and the Congress for acting “in a manner demonstrably at odds with our founding fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people.” Birch is a conservative.

Theresa Schiavo died the next day. Media trucks, demonstrators, prayer groups, Cuban nationalists, jugglers and anybody else that wanted to get on TV besieged the hospice that housed her.

President Bush expressed sympathy. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay threatened retribution. He castigated judges who refused to intervene in the case as “arrogant” and “out of control.”

In other news, the pot called the kettle black.

This case went to court approximately two dozen times, before judges of all political stripes. And they consistently ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo. So it seems obvious that what is at work here is not “arrogance” or “judicial activism,” but simply judges judging, according to the law.

Problem is, this was not about the law for lawmakers like DeLay. Nor even truly about morality. Rather, it was about playing to the movement of self-righteous religious zealotry that has hijacked American conservatism. His threat to make judges “answer” for doing their jobs is eloquent testimony to its brutish and bullying nature, its need to get its way, regardless of any person, law, or moral precept that intervenes.

Terri Schiavo died at the center ring of a political circus, an intimate tragedy beamed to the world and destined to outlive her as a tool for fund-raising and a rallying cry for those whose hypocrisy is exceeded only by the incoherence of their logic. She died with a juggler outside her window.

Meanwhile, Sun Hudson died the kind of death that is routinely suffered by thousands of people for whom treatment is deemed futile. A death the wider world does not notice, much less mourn.

A friend thinks the dichotomy is explained by the fact that his mother was black and unemployed. Maybe.

But even so, you have to wonder if he wasn’t the lucky one.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com