A Mockery of Mercy 

So, after all the fuss and bother and showboating, after all the crocodile tears in high places, after all the wrenching of the national soul and the add-on stress and the false hopes inflicted on already suffering parties, the inevitable has occurred: The federal judge to whom the case of Terri Schiavo was remanded Sunday by virtue of an unprecedented special act of Congress, has said no to the parents who sought to have a feeding tube reattached to their brain-dead daughter.

We say "brain-dead" in sorrow. We do not minimize the grief of Terri Schiavo's parents, and we too wish that some miracle were possible to restore her former life. But competent medical authority has, several times over, adjudged that impossible, and competent legal authority at the state level has supported both that fact and her spouse's right to make the call in giving up an expensive and fruitless quest.

At the precedent-setting risk of upsetting forever the precarious constitutionally ordained relations between state and federal authorities, the Republican-led Congress, egged on by President Bush, whose signature on the bill was played as high drama, made the decision to transform tragedy into theater. Shades of the "Mission Accomplished" aircraft carrier production of 2003! No mission was accomplished in this case either, and the sad saga of Terri Schiavo has reverted to the intractable tragedy that it must remain. Predictably, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore said there was no "substantial likelihood of success" in reattaching the feeding tube and thereby prolonging an irreversible deathwatch indefinitely.

Meanwhile, unfortunate ironies abound. Bill Frist, the Tennessee senator who is Senate majority leader and an all-but-declared presidential candidate for 2008, played a pivotal and -- say it we must -- shameful role in the proceedings. Though a real physician of some repute, Frist chose to play a different kind on TV. He became an opportunistic Dr. Feelgood, purporting to judge Schiavo's case as a treatable one by virtue of having viewed fleeting images of the patient on a 2001 video made by her parents!

This is the same Bill Frist who has made it a major goal to impose caps on malpractice awards at a level far beneath the one awarded to the Schiavo family years ago, an amount of money that made it possible to prolong her life up to this point.

The Republican majority, which so gleefully gathered last weekend in the Capitol to play at being the saviors of one unfortunate woman, is the same majority which the week before overwhelmingly passed bankruptcy legislation that will make it virtually impossible for the family of Ms. Schiavo to survive economically, should their -- and her -- ordeal be permitted to go on.

This is the same Republican congressional majority that, spurred on by its religious-right supporters, has called for constitutional amendments to support traditional marriage. In a few hours time on Sunday, they did more damage to traditional marriage -- by acting to strip Schiavo's spouse of his legal rights -- than could a host of imagined infidels and deviants over a century to come!

We are disappointed once more by our own local congressman, Harold Ford Jr., and by the rest of his Tennessee colleagues, who could not find it in themselves, for political reasons, to oppose this congressional travesty of make-believe and posturing.

Better that they had studied the example of Republican congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut. Shays has already been targeted for removal by the hard-right faction of the GOP, but he nevertheless crossed party lines to vote no on Sunday's bill to overturn established due process and countermand Michael Schiavo's marital rights.

"How deep is this Congress going to reach into the personal lives of each and every one of us?" asked an alarmed Shays. Much deeper, we suspect, unless those of his fellow legislators we cite here, and many more, find courage and a conscience.


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