. . . Tuesday March 22, 2005

On to the Next Court

The federal judge in the the Schiavo case has refused to intervene. The case is now being appealed to a higher federal court.

Reader Vince Wetzel of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers emailed me his take:

This issue is broader than Terry Schiavo, It is about people with disabilities and their rights. Whereas this is insane that this issue has been taken on a rollercoaster ride, it is not insane for our country to take a good hard look at the impacts of this issue on people with disabilities. As Harkin said yesterday:

Harkin: “I said on the floor the other day, ‘While I want to make

sure this specific case is reviewed de novo, there is a broader

question here.’ This case has gotten a lot of publicity obviously;

but there are a lot of people in the shadows, all over this country,

who are incapacitated because of a disability, and many times

there is no one to speak for them, and it is hard to determine what their wishes really are or were. So I think there ought to be a broader type of a proceeding that would apply to people in similar circumstances who are incapacitated. Where there is a genuine dispute as to what the desires of the incapacitated person really are, then there ought to be at the end some review by a federal court outside of state jurisdiction. You might say, ‘Why a federal court?’ State courts vary in their evidentiary proceedings and in their process — fifty different ones. Iowa differs from Florida or Missouri. So sometimes a person might get caught in a certain evidentiary proceeding, in a state court, that does not really tell the whole story. Every review of that, up through the state courts, is basically on the procedure, not upon the first facts. In a case like this, where someone is incapacitated and their life support can be taken away, it seems to me that it is appropriate — where there is a dispute, as there is in this case — that a federal court come in, like we do in habeas corpus situations, and review it and make another determination. And so I’m hopeful that we will come back in this Congress and we will develop some legislation that will address this issue.”

Now I am not naive to think that the right-wingers will take a good hard look at a disability perspective, particularly when at the same time they are looking to cut Medicaid funding. However, this issue strikes a deep chord with people with disabilities. Our community knows first hand how this issue, along with those raised by “Million Dollar Baby” and assisted suicide is a slippery slope toward euthanasia. If you think that’s way off, just look to the Netherlands. The value of a life with a disability is not less than one without. Now I don’t know the entire specifics of Ms. Schiavo’s disabilities, but this discussion should be had in the appropriate contexts.

Indeed, the discussion, if it were really about these issues, would be great to have.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Mark Obrien speak at a graduation at Berkeley. Obrien was, at the time, one of a few people restricted to a life in an iron lung. He used a pencil in his mouth to tap out words on a computer keyboard. Then he recorded his words. He was wheeled out onto the stage at Berkeley’s Greek theater while an assistant pressed play on the recorder and held it up to the microphone. His speech was as moving and inspirational as any I’ve ever heard – not least because he was a also a graduate of Berkeley.

There is no doubt that there are many people who would’ve written off Mark Obrien years before he had the opportunity to inspire so many people. This issue – and the broader issue of how we treat the disabled in general – should be raised.

The trouble is that I don’t think the current politicization of the Schiavo case gets us any closer to that discussion. In fact, we are probably farther away from it than we were last week at this time.

Concentration is important!