We haven’t posted in the past about Terri Schiavo, the severely disabled Florida woman who, if members of Congress can’t obtain the stay order for which they’re scrambling right now (see Drudge), will be put to death, a very, very slow death by starvation and and dehydration, in just a few hours at the behest of her husband and over the protests of her parents, who have begged court after court to let Terri live and let them take over her care. Terri’s case is ghastly, and I hope and pray this morning that somebody somewhere will devise some legal means for our system to take mercy on her–but I’m not optimistic.

I hadn’t thought that Terri’s case presented the sort of women’s issues that are usually the stuff of this blog–until I read this post by National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez:  

“A man–and his male lawyer and doctor–backed up by a male judge, is cutting off his wife’s food tomorrow. Why is NOW not on the scene? The National Organization of Women. I went to the Feminist Majority’s website. Nothing. On International Women’s Day, Kim Gandy was spotted on CBS ranting about Kristie Alley’s Fat Actress being bad for women (I kid you not), but she and her gals have nada to say about Terri Schiavo?”

Terri Schiavo’s is a tragedy of a legal system that usually works well but sometimes–as in this case–works very badly. Years ago a Florida judge made a finding of fact that Terri would have wanted to be refused nutrition and water if she got into the condition she’s in, severe brain damage after a collapse in 1990, and that her husband, Michael, should be appointed her guardian, with the right to refuse nutrition and water for her on her behalf. Furthermore, there was some evidence to support that finding, even if you or I might deem that evidence a mite skimpy: Michael said Terri said…and so forth.

When such a finding of fact is made by judge or jury, it’s almost dead certain that no higher court is going to overturn that finding or even–as happened when the Florida legislature tried to save Terri a couple of years ago–let another branch of government overturn it. In most cases, this is a good thing. We don’t want a bleeding-heart appeals court or a future Gray Davis-style governor to overturn Scott Peterson’s conviction for murdering Laci and Connor just because Laci’s head was missing with its evidence of foul play when her body washed ashore.

Had I been the judge in Terri’s case, I would have taken a more jaundiced view of Michael, who didn’t start making his “right to die” claims on Terri’s behalf until 1993, after he’d deposited into his bank account the net proceeds of at least $1 million in settlements or court awards from his claim that Terri’s doctors had committed medical malpractice. That money was supposed to pay for a lifetime of medical care for Terri–and would have if properly annuitized–but the lion’s share has instead gone to Michael’s lawyers over the years of litigation. If I’d been the judge, I would have wondered whether Michael’s taking up with another woman and fathering three children on her soon after Terri became disabled might have interfered a tad with his claim to be a devoted husband who thought night and day only of his wife’s best interests. I would have demanded more medical evidence of the extent of Terri’s brain impairment. Not to mention more evidence that snuffing by starvation and dehydration, a mode of execution we don’t inflict on disabled dogs, was really the way Terri wanted to go.

But I wasn’t the judge. Someone else was, and that judge’s finding has been pretty much legally impenetrable. The problem isn’t our legal or governmental system per se; it’s that we live in a society where a great many of our intellectual elite, including most of our lawyers and judges, believe that the “right to die” is so important that it doesn’t matter whether the person in question has actually indicated clearly that he or she wants to die. It’s an elite that’s still trying to flog the high-class snuff film Million Dollar Baby, which few Americans have wanted to see but upon which Hollywood showered Oscars because it delivers the elite-correct message that if you’re disabled, it’s time to go.  

That elite, of course, includes NOW, the Foundation for a Feminist Majority, and other feminist-establishment groups that are more devoted to their own abstract ideology than to the plight of real women who are really abused by men. NOW and the rest of them didn’t lift a finger on Laci Peterson’s behalf because…she was pregnant when she was killed and NOW supports abortion rights. And they’re not lifting a finger to interfere with Michael Schiavo, the slo-mo Scott Peterson who, like his California counterpart, seems to want to kill his wife because she’s interfering with his lifestyle. If you look at the congressional debate over saving Terri, you’ll see that it breaks down along the usual ideological and political lines: Republicans scrambling to put off her scheduled starvation, liberal Dems saying: Go Michael!

I’m a medievalist by training, and I know something about executions during medieval and Elizabethan days. When someone was convicted of treason for offending the ruling monarch, the penalty for men was being hanged, drawn, and quartered. But it was considered indecent to disembowel a woman in public, so women who were, say, religious dissidents, underwent a mode of execution known as peine forte et dure. It involved forcing the woman to lie on her back on the prison floor, laying a wooden door atop her, and weighting the door down with heavy stones. Death by disembowelment was at least quick, but women condemned to peine forte et dure suffered for days, even weeks, given nothing to eat or drink while their crushed bodies slowly collapsed. That is likely to be Terri Schiavo’s fate very soon. May God have mercy on her–because our ruling elite, including our entire feminist establishment, sure won’t.