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A culture of Life?

A Culture of Life?

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 4-7-05
As governor of Texas in 1999, George W. Bush
signed the Texas Futile Care
Law. This bill allows the state to remove life
support from patients like
Terri Schiavo, despite their stated wishes or
religious beliefs, or those of
their families, as long as the state unilaterally
determines such life
support as "futile."

More recently, Bush cut short his vacation to fly
back to Washington on the
government's dime to sign another bill concerning
an end-of-life issue. This
time he signed an unprecedented federal bill into
law allowing federal
courts to review the decision to stop force
feeding Terri Schiavo. In
signing the bill, he told the world, "It is
always wise to err on the side
of life." As Bush and his fellow Republicans
grandstanded on the Schiavo
issue, however, a Texas hospital invoked the 1999
bill that Bush signed into
law to force the removal of a breathing tube from
a fatally ill six-month
old child against his family's will. In the
Schiavo case, the Republicans
were hoping for divine intervention - a
miraculous return to cognizance for
a severely brain-damaged woman who has been
diagnosed as being in a
"persistent vegetative state" for 15 years. In
the case of the six-month
old, there was no miracle on the horizon. Or
perhaps, more pragmatically,
there was no health insurance. Clearly, the
hypocrisy of the Republican
mafia is breathtaking.

Putting Schiavo Out by the Curb

We really can't overlook the financial concerns
at play here. The medical
industry is eager to plunder any financial estate
associated with a comatose
body. By the same account, they're eager to cut
loose any indigent patient.
Hence, Bush's sudden reverence for miraculous
"life" and his 1999 support
for pragmatic medical realism aren't, in fact,
contradictory. They both
support an industry that wants to milk
financially viable bodies while
simultaneously ditching those incapable of
providing a revenue stream. When
Medicaid is gutted, patients like Schiavo will
fall into this latter
category. These two Bush bills, put together,
eventually will mean well off
families can indulge their tormented fantasies -
forever paying for the
unachievable quack cure or miracle - while poor
families soon to be cut from
Medicaid lose their rights to make any such
end-of-life decisions for
themselves. Nursing homes get to milk the
able-to-pay while hospitals cut
their losses with the poor.

The whole financial story here presents another
instance of Republican
hypocrisy. Most families in Schiavo's situation
would be pauperized from
medical bills and dependent upon the very
Medicaid program that the
Republicans are hoping to gut. The current bills
for maintaining Schiavo's
body are, in fact, paid by Medicaid. Without
Medicaid covering the cost of
maintaining Schiavo's body, nobody would be
having this debate. Of course
for years Schiavo wasn't dependent upon Medicaid
since her family won a
malpractice lawsuit that covered many of her
expenses. Again, under the
proposed Republican caps to malpractice and
corporate liability suits,
Schiavo's body again would be out by the curb.

Sleeping Lawyers

The Nation responded to Bush's sanctimonious "err
on the side of life" line
with a "tell that to Karla Faye Tucker" jab.
Tucker was a Texas woman
executed under Bush's watch as governor after he
ridiculed her appeal to him
for clemency - mocking her "please. don't kill
me" plea during a press

Erring on the side of life also didn't stop Bush
from signing the death
warrants for 150 Texas convicts and overseeing
the introduction of the first
federal executions in over a generation
(including the executions of at
least two Gulf War veterans) - even though
studies show that roughly seven
percent of death row inmates were falsely
convicted. That number is likely
higher in Texas, where The New York Times reports
that court appointed
lawyers representing subsequently condemned
clients tried cases under the
influence of cocaine and alcohol, or fell asleep
during trial. The Chicago
Tribune reports that one third of the convicts
sentenced to death under
Bush's watch in Texas were represented by
attorneys who were either
sanctioned or later disbarred. In 29 of these
cases, the Texas courts
allowed testimony from prosecution psychiatrists
who predicted the
defendants would commit future violent acts -
even though the psychologists
never actually examined the defendants. In 40
cases, the court-appointed
lawyers presented no evidence or only one witness
during the sentencing
phase of the trials.

Falsely and potentially falsely convicted death
row inmates, however, can
talk, think and feed themselves. They're not
being allowed to die a natural
death - they're being forcibly restrained and
executed. Judicially, however,
they might as well be in a persistent vegetative
state. For some folks who
call themselves "pro-life," a woman in a coma
with a diaper and a teddy bear
provides a more sympathetic iconographic figure
than a convict in a cage. I
guess they're not pro all life.

DeLay the Inevitable

Then there's Tom DeLay. He's been a real strong
supporter of Schiavo's
parents - arguing that removing Schiavo's
mechanical feeding tube would be
"an act of barbarism." Of course he didn't feel
quite this way 17 years ago
when his own father, after a freak accident, was
also in a persistent
vegetative state. After a few weeks (not 15
years), DeLay and his family
accepted the reality of his father's situation
and elected to remove
artificial life support, letting him slip into a
natural death. DeLay, a
leader in the current Republican fight to limit
consumers' rights to sue
corporations over faulty products, also chose to
sue a ball bearing
manufacturer whose bearings DeLay's dad used in
the homemade contraption (a
tram to scale a 200 foot drop) that killed him.
I guess DeLay's family got
their peace and their money - the Schiavos and
everyone else be damned. Of
course, that is, everyone but Tom DeLay be
damned. DeLay is currently
facing a perfect storm of ethics charges (see my
previous column). A sweet
little diversion focusing the nation's attention
on the picayune, of course,
can't hurt.

DeLay, Bush and the Republican team also take a
strong rhetorical stance
against what they term "judicial activism."
Technically, this term would
describe the act of misinterpreting the law in
order to further a stated
outcome (such as the 2000 Supreme Court decision
to stop the Florida
recount). In the Republican lexicon, however, it
means render null any
decision in opposition to the Republican/Fox News
stance of the day. No
matter how you describe it, pushing legislation
through congress in order to
thwart a duly arrived at court decision and
hijack a case into a friendlier
jurisdiction would seem to fall into this realm.
Pressuring the court to
arrive at a certain decision contrary to the law
would also seem to be an
attempt to game the judicial system in favor of a
certain outcome. With
Bush proposing a slew of outcome-oriented
judicial nominations, this tacit
support for judicial activism should unmask the
GOP's agenda to hijack the
federal courts.

Judge Judy Rules

The Republicans, over the years, have defined
themselves as relentless
supporters of states' rights. This support,
however, seems conditioned on
exactly what specific rights it is that states
want. Republicans have
historically supported, for example, the right of
states to reject federal
civil rights legislation. More recently they've
supported the right of
states to pass their own homophobic laws limiting
marriage rights, and
granting environmental plunder rights to
corporate campaign donors. In
2000, however, they showed their hypocrisy by
invoking the U.S. Supreme
Court to overrule the Florida Supreme Court and
halt the counting of
presidential ballots in that state. This year,
they pushed it further by
passing a law giving Schiavo's parents the right
to usurp state courts and
bring their case into federal court. If applied
to other cases, this law
would in effect negate the rights of states to
run their own judiciaries
with any more authority than Judge Judy's TV

Finally, there's the ultimate hypocrisy here -
the gall of the Republicans
to pretend to be in any way "pro-life." Yes,
they're grabbing headlines
trying to "save" a woman who many medical
ethicists argue actually died 15
years ago. At the same time their cuts to public
health programs will leave
hundreds of thousands of impoverished children
without proper medical care.
Their weakening of environmental regulations
promises to further poison our
environment and lead to countless cancer deaths
and other illnesses. They're
cutting nutrition programs. They're cutting
funding to education programs
that allow poor children aspire to a better life.
They're cutting heating
assistance programs that provide indigent
households with heat. They're
cutting funds to combat homelessness. And
they're doing all of this to the
most vulnerable Americans so that they can cut
taxes for the richest
Americans - all under the disproven Reaganite
theory that the hedonistic
consumption of the rich will trickle economic
benefits upon the poor. In
actuality these programs are resulting in the
deaths of the most vulnerable
Americans who aren't getting the nutrition,
medical care or shelter they
need to live healthy lives. This is not a
"pro-life" policy by any means.

These Bastards Are Not Pro-Life

Then there're the wars. Perhaps, as a study in
the British medical journal
Lancet argues, over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have
been killed in the Bush
administration's latest war (I went over all of
these bloody numbers in my
last column). My point is that these bastards
are not pro-life! Do not be
fooled. No matter where you stand on issues such
as abortion and
end-of-life decisions, do not let the Bush team
lead you about by your
emotions. It's time for some serious thinking -
this is especially true for
people who consider themselves to be pro-life
while supporting the bloodiest
American administration in over a generation.

Dr. Michael I. Niman's previous columns are
archived at www.mediastudy.com.
jurmag 08.Apr.2005 19:37


couldn't agree with you more but how do we get the masses to understand the truth

Good article, but the masses? 09.Apr.2005 20:33

Progressive Democrat

Good mediastudy article.

The masses? Seems like many Americans can be sold ANYTHING, so then we think that we have to sell the truth. But the truth should sell itself, no?

Wish I knew the answers.