GOP Prez Debate: Since When Does Pro-Life Mean Killing Disabled People?

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 7, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

GOP Prez Debate: Since When Does Pro-Life Mean Killing Disabled People?

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by Bobby Schindler
May 7, 2007 Note: Bobby Schindler is the brother of Terri Schiavo and works with his family to run the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation to assist disabled people.

I sat in confusion last Thursday evening while watching the GOP Presidential debate.

All but one of the candidates proudly expressed their pro-life positions, and then just a short time later, in response to a question on the Terri Schiavo case, some of them stated that the courts should decide whether or not it was acceptable for an innocent disabled woman to be starved and dehydrated to death.

Wait a second, wasn’t it the courts that made it legal to kill unborn children?

How can one be against the courts permitting the deliberate killing of the unborn, but find it perfectly okay for the courts to purposely starve and dehydrate an innocent disabled woman to death?

As far as I’m concerned, you can’t call yourself pro-life and be against one and for the other. This is why I was more than a little surprised by the responses the frontrunners and even a few of the second tier candidates gave. Their answers clearly reflected the ongoing influence of the mainstream media and its tendency to report only biased polls regarding my sister’s circumstances.

I believe that the question was a set-up by moderator Chris Matthews to highlight this confusion and division in the GOP ranks on the issue of euthanasia.

Remember this is the same Chris Matthews that so heartlessly said the following about my father during an interview with Don Imus at the time that my sister was being dehydrated to death, “The parents… the father seems to be having, I hate to say this, a good time.”

Clearly, Mr. Matthews is not only intolerant towards the rights of people like Terri to live, but he is also lacking in a basic tenet of human decency which dictates that we not attack people in the midst of their suffering.

Regardless of Matthew’s negative intentions, however, imagine for a second if all the Republican candidates were unified and emphatic in stating how troubling it is that a nation which once protected our disabled citizens is now starving and dehydrating to death the most vulnerable among us.

However, many candidates, as well as the majority of the American people, don’t realize the true nature of what was at stake in Terri’s case, let alone the larger issue. Contrary to what the mainstream media would have you believe, Terri’s situation was not just a pro-life matter but also a disability rights issue.

It was not about someone’s “right-to-die”, nor was it an “end-of-life” issue as was so often reported. Terri was a healthy young woman with a profound brain injury. She was not dying, she did not suffer from any “killer” disease, she was alert and interacted with her friends and family, and she was deliberately and cruelly starved to death.

Moreover, Terri’s case was not “hijacked” by the religious right as has so often been claimed by the secular press. There were 30 disability rights groups supporting my sister in her struggle for life.

Ironically, at the time Terri’s case was receiving the most media attention, there were more disability organizations that were publicly speaking out in support of Terri’s life than pro-life organizations. I can guarantee you never heard that on the evening news.

Last Thursday’s debate gave candidates an opportunity to show their support of and speak directly to the disability rights community. This community has been trying to get the government to do more to protect the disabled, pleading for help on their behalf long before my sister’s case made national and international headlines.

In fact, if government would have been listening to the disabled community, Terri’s case wouldn’t have required Congressional involvement in the first place.

Sadly, some candidates played right into the hands of the partisan moderator, hemming and hawing about how this “was an issue better left to the courts”. Can’t you just imagine the thrill that gave Matthews?

My sister’s case was arguably one of the most egregious violations of an American citizen’s basic human rights in our nation’s history. The way it stands now, heinous criminals on death row have more protection and are treated with more dignity than people like Terri. Congress saw this and intervened to protect her.

Rather than suffer the ire of a hostile media and a largely uneducated public, they should be commended for stepping in to protect the life of one of their most vulnerable constituents. Not only was it was appropriate for Congress to try and help Terri, but it is what they are morally obligated to do in such cases.

And despite Terri’s death, it is my hope that all of our politicians will realize that this is one of the most significant issues facing our nation today, and pledge their unwavering commitment to do everything in their power to protect all innocent disabled persons from being cruelly starved and dehydrated to death.

While it is too late for Terri, tens of thousands of other “Terris” are still among us.