Terri Is Gone But Infotainment Lives On

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

I’m sick of the high-profile news stories: Scott Peterson, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson, the courthouse shooter, and now the Schiavo-Schindler family fracas. “Infotainment,” I’ve heard it called.

The Terri Schiavo story isn’t about “disability rights.” I know there’re a lot of people saying it is. A lot of important people said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. A lot of important people said there wasn’t anything wrong with slavery. At this stage of the game, the Schiavo struggle is about politics and religious agendas, with skillful marketing techniques mixed in. Public statements don’t always reflect reality.

The legal positions are clear. What’s happening now is political grandstanding and pandering for votes. Politicians and religious leaders are camera hungry and eagerly thinking about the next election. The courts have made the same rulings over and over. The main Florida State judge in the case, George Greer, is a conservative Republican and a Baptist, not a liberal. He’s now under police protection because of
death threats over his rulings in the case.

While governor of Texas, Mr Bush signed a bill in 1999 that authorized next-of-kin or surrogates to authorize the termination of life when a team of bio-ethicists and doctors agreed. In 1999, the governor put to death 34 prisoners; during his two terms, he authorized the death of 150 men and two women. One of the men was severely retarded; one of the women apparently recanted and repented. Time magazine reported the president mocked her words when she asked for clemency. The President’s decision to “err on the side of life” is quite recent.

I’m disgusted that he was so lax about sending his condolences to the people at Red Lake, MN—but they don’t have the vote numbers the Christian fundamentalists can offer.

Tom DeLay and his family authorized the end of life support for his father after a freak accident. Bill Frist, a likely candidate for president in 2008, authorized a report on sexual behavior that claimed AIDS could be transmitted by tears and sweat. These are the national political leaders calling for intervention in the Schiavo case.

An internal memo alerted the GOP faithful that this case should be publicized because it could cinch up the fundamentalist Christian vote.

Many of the religious leaders involved with the Schindler family are also involved in the attempts to outlaw abortion. Randall Terry, the controversial leader of Operation Rescue, is acting as an advisor and spokesperson for the Schindlers. Money for the appeals has come from a collection of wealthy conservative organizations. These religious people are consistent, I believe, in that, but their silences on war and capital punishment are not consistent.
Ms Schiavo’s parents are being ground up and made into symbols for people with agendas that have little to do with this particular case. Another person would serve equally well. The Schiavo case is about political power. It isn’t about disability rights or the sacredness of life. During both his presidential campaigns, Mr Bush made major promises to the conservative churches.

The Republican Party’s trustworthiness is on the line with those groups.

It’s awful. I know the Schindler’s anguish is genuine and their psychic lives are in shreds. It’s been a year since my son died, struck by a bus and killed instantly. What if he had been left like Ms Schiavo? I’m thankful he wasn’t.

However, if my son had been left in a “persistent vegetative state”—which is quite different from what the Florida Governor calls “minimally conscious”—I would have talked it over with his mother and the doctors. There would have been no reason to keep his body going.

The spirit or soul is separate from the body and it doesn’t live or die: it just is. The spirit’s presence (I believe) is indicated by brain activity. If there’s no activity the spirit is already gone. That said, it would have been a more excruciating experience than it was. I’ve participated in these kinds of choices: both my mother and a sister chose to end their lives when faced with rampant cancers. The second time was no easier than the first time.

Despite everything the instant medical experts have claimed, Ms. Schiavo’s brain activity stopped years ago. The amount of medical evidence compiled over the last fifteen years is about as conclusive as
it can be.


In the American system of government, there are three essentially equal branches of federal government: legislative—Congress, the Executive, and the Judicial. Our government has evolved to where the courts have the final say when it comes to constitutional guarantees. This dates from the decisions of John Marshal, two hundred years ago. (See Marbury Vs Madison).

The courts haven’t always been right or wrong: they’ve made decisions that today seem awful—like deciding that the Alien and Sedition Acts were legal, or the Dredd Scott case, or the internment of Japanese
Americans during World War II, among others. They made great decisions—like Brown v. Board of Education.

There are other examples of both good and bad decisions. Justice Marshal wrote the decision that said President Andy Jackson could not arbitrarily treaties and “relocate” the Five Civilized Tribes from their homelands in the southeast to what is now Oklahoma. The executive’s power does not exceed that of the courts. Jackson went right ahead and exiled the tribes to
the Trail of Tears. Reputedly, he said, “Mr Justice Marshal made his decision, now let us see him enforce it.” There was no way to stop him.

That’s the weakness: it depends on mutual respect.

I thought a similar situation would happen in the Schiavo struggle. It almost did, according to a story in the Miami Herald: Governor Bush sent state police to take custody of Ms. Schiavo, but the local police stood fast and wouldn’t let that happen. In other words, they didn’t permit the executive branch to over-power the judicial branch.

That’s the legal situation.

The parents’ anguish has been seized by a variety of people funded by foundations with close ties to the far right and the fundamentalist churches. These appeals have cost thousands and thousands of dollars.
Transportation, copies of documents and transcripts, lodging—it all takes money. The Schindlers are not rich. Some people have claimed Mr. Schivo is wealthy: but not after fifteen years of legal struggle.

Mr. Schiavo’s brother reported that Randall Terry, from Operation Rescue, offered Michael Schiavo $700,000 “to walk away.”

In the same area, the Sunday session of Congress, where the pro-life senators and representatives were able to amass publicity, cost the tax-payers, over $400,000 just for their presence. That’s not counting transportation, staff time, or the president’s attendance in Washington.
Which brings us to the moral issues. As far as I can learn, Ms. Schiavo is not suffering; pain is a function of brain activity. In any case, she’s being administered morphine.

Right to life? The Right to Life advocates are being extremely selective. Our bombing raids in Iraq have killed tens of thousands of people, at least as many as were killed by Saddam Hussein; the genocides of Rwanda and Sudan are still there, as are the millions of treatable AIDS patients in the Third World. We’re still trying to over-look the genocide that happened in the Americas (it’s such a tacky subject at a backyard barbecue). I’m waiting to hear the churches and “pro-life” politicians demand we take action about these situations. Mr. DeLay and Mr. Frist both voted for a $15 billion cut in Medicaid, a program that helps pay for, among other things, caring for people who are in Ms. Schiavo’s condition. That is hypocrisy, which is definitely a moral issue, but one over-looked at the moment.


From my viewpoint, the coverage of this whole circus is about attracting ratings. Ratings come from the size of the viewing audience, of course. More than one critic has said that TV programming is about attracting an audience than then can be sold to advertisers.

“Infotainment” is the latest technique for rounding up those viewers. The politicians are using this case to market themselves. This is cynical and sick.
Almost all of the information I have has come from Google searches, to verify my own memories. The information took less time collecting than writing this article. Go see for yourselves. Always: go see for yourself; don’t let anyone else do it for you.

Do you agree? Let us know. Write to us at nathasha@audacitymagazine.com or join the Online Forum.