Schiavo Nazi comparisons

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2005

Watching from the UK, the Terri Schiavo case makes the US look like a very weird and deeply troubled polity. All those homely and patronising sermons about “government of laws not of men &c”, and then the US Congress passes a law to deal with a particular case and to subvert a prior decision of the judiciary, just so that Republicans can grandstand to their Christian fundamentalist base (see Obsidian Wings for the best commentary so far ). And all this signed into law by a President who, when governor of Texas, approved a measure to switch off life support where people didn’t have the money to pay any more . I note, by the way, that the so-called “right-to-life” brigade have been pretty free with their use of Nazi analogies on this one. Since any Nazi-comparison (however casual) involving George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, Daily Mail journalists or Abu Ghraib elicits instant howls of outrage from the British-based neocon cheerleaders, I expect we’ll be hearing from them shortly. Or not.

{ 30 comments }

1

dsquared 03.22.05 at 10:42 am

The other thing I find quite bizarre is that the religious motor of the episode appears to be the Southern Baptists, going in for the right of a lapsed Catholic to be treated according to the Catholic doctrine on vegetative states.

2

Yuval Rubinstein 03.22.05 at 11:08 am

For what it’s worth, the American public appears strongly opposed to these latest Congressional shenanigans:
- 70% of Americans say it is inappropriate for Congress to involve itself in the Schiavo case.
- 67% of Americans “think the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved.” (Just 19% believe the elected officials are acting out of concern for her or their principles.)
- 58% of Republicans, 61% of independents and 63% of Democrats oppose federal government intervention in the case.
- 50% of evangelicals oppose federal government intervention in the case, just 44% approve of the intervention.
- 63% of Catholics and a plurality of evangelicals believe Schiavo’s feeding tube should be removed.

3

Darren 03.22.05 at 11:35 am

In a democracy it is not possible to have rule of law: only rule of man.

4

John Isbell 03.22.05 at 11:46 am

Evidently the poll questions first specified Schiavo’s actual state, as the TV news media systematically have not. True US opinion may well be widely different. TPM expects DeLay to escalate now he’s invested so much rhetoric in this: he can’t just back down.

5

Anderson 03.22.05 at 11:54 am

John Isbell raises an interesting point: do we listen to the voters who actually have the facts, or to all of them?

Had there been a brief quiz before one could cast a vote last November, what would President Kerry be saying about the Schiavo case?…

6

Jay C 03.22.05 at 12:50 pm

Well, Chris, JFTR, it NOT only those Across The Water who might think that the US has become “a very weird and deeply troubled polity” – believe me, that view has plenty of currency over here, too! And not just because of the Terri Schiavo case (although it certainly doesn’t help).
About the only silver lining in this whole cloud of crap is that *even* given the incredible ignorance of the “public” about the medical (or even the ethical) facts of the case, and the general unwillingness of the mass media to examine the issues dispassionately; public opinion seems to be overwhelmingly negative (as yuval has pointed out above) towards the Republican Congressional leadership’s blatant, crass and unprecedented politicization of the case, and their cavalier attitude towards the Constitution and the law.
Hopefully, their grandstanding and hypocrisy will come back to bite them in the a–, but since those parts (on Republican Congresscreatures, anyway) are as well-armored as tanks, it’s probably too much to hope.

7

Jay C 03.22.05 at 12:50 pm

Well, Chris, JFTR, it NOT only those Across The Water who might think that the US has become “a very weird and deeply troubled polity” – believe me, that view has plenty of currency over here, too! And not just because of the Terri Schiavo case (although it certainly doesn’t help).
About the only silver lining in this whole cloud of crap is that *even* given the incredible ignorance of the “public” about the medical (or even the ethical) facts of the case, and the general unwillingness of the mass media to examine the issues dispassionately; public opinion seems to be overwhelmingly negative (as yuval has pointed out above) towards the Republican Congressional leadership’s blatant, crass and unprecedented politicization of the case, and their cavalier attitude towards the Constitution and the law.
Hopefully, their grandstanding and hypocrisy will come back to bite them in the a–, but since those parts (on Republican Congresscreatures, anyway) are as well-armored as tanks, it’s probably too much to hope.

8

P O\'Neill 03.22.05 at 12:51 pm

It’s always possible that the “British-based neocon cheerleaders” will find the Republicans behaviour on this one too embarrassing even for their tastes.
And there is deep misinformation in this case. Consider the goons who tried to enter the hospice with bread for Mrs Schiavo. They seem not to know what being on a feeding tube means.

9

praktike 03.22.05 at 12:53 pm

Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for these goons.
btw, the poll seems to be a push poll (but it’s accurate), as John Isbell points out. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and TV is doing a piss-poor job of knocking it down, as usual.

10

asg 03.22.05 at 1:04 pm

I wondered if that poll would be trotted out. Orin Kerr has a pretty good post on the shortcomings of those questions:
http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2005_03_20-2005_03_26.shtml#1111442730
John Isbell says “the poll questions first specified Schiavo’s state”, which of course is precisely what’s in dispute (her state, not that the poll made a claim about it). That a CT reader’s comment would be loaded with his own bias is to be expected; for a professional poll to do so is rather off the mark.

11

Uncle Kvetch 03.22.05 at 1:17 pm

and then the US Congress passes a law to deal with a particular case and to subvert a prior decision of the judiciary, just so that Republicans can grandstand to their Christian fundamentalist base
I don’t think that it’s “just” for this reason (although that’s certainly the most obvious rationale). I think they’re deliberately setting a precedent whereby “activist judges” (i.e., those whose decisions conflict with far-right dogma) can be steamrollered by the legislature on a case-by-case basis. I very much doubt that this is the last we’ll be seeing of this particular tactic.
(An aside: I’m finding I can’t post comments from Foxfire (on a PC). When I hit Submit I immediately get a blank screen; nothing happens. Anybody?)

12

Russell Arben Fox 03.22.05 at 1:26 pm

What makes me saddest are the Schindlers, and all sorts of other people, who are with the purest intent and entirely defensible motivations, are contributing to the continued warping and making irrelevant of an honest “culture of life” ethic in the U.S.

13

abb1 03.22.05 at 2:28 pm

test

14

abb1 03.22.05 at 2:30 pm

I was getting a blank screen with both firefox and IE for a while.

15

Anderson 03.22.05 at 2:51 pm

Hey, asg—if the questions are factually correct, they’re not loaded.
Schiavo’s “state” is in dispute the same way the theory of evolution by natural selection is in dispute.

16

Barry 03.22.05 at 2:53 pm

asg:
“John Isbell says “the poll questions first specified Schiavo’s state”, which of course is precisely what’s in dispute (her state, not that the poll made a claim about it). That a CT reader’s comment would be loaded with his own bias is to be expected; for a professional poll to do so is rather off the mark.”
‘In dispute’? Riiiiggghhhhhht.

17

Andrew Boucher 03.22.05 at 3:28 pm

I think we should all be discussing Prince Charles’ wedding like the English.

18

Katherine 03.22.05 at 4:21 pm

19

Brian Weatherson 03.22.05 at 5:20 pm

I agree with Barry about the dispute here. Paul Krugman always used to joke about how if Republicans said the earth was flat there would be a spate of newspaper articles presenting the for and against evidence, and criticisms of anyone who dared to presuppose the earth was round. We’re now seeing just that in action. I think Anderson if anything understates the case. The theory of evolution requires inference from immediate observation – this one isn’t even an issue of inference. The dispute is about as good as if someone stood up and said “I’ve stood in Kansas and looked around, looks pretty flat to me.”

20

Jon 03.23.05 at 12:03 am

President Bush often likes to speak of a “culture of life”, a catch phrase that neatly frames his opposition to reproductive choice and stem cell research. The tragic case of Terri Schiavo, now featuring dangerously irresponsible and unprecedented Congressional intervention, is only latest chapter in his conservative playbook.
It is high time to end the melodrama of Republican political opportunism and regain control of this debate.
Progressives must do this not because we’re “right” or because our position in this case enjoys broad majority support. It is because by defending what Justice Brandeis called “the right to be left alone” we can offer Americans a powerful framework for assessing the legitimacy – and morality – of government intrusion and paternalism in our most personal decisions. To help articulate what I’ll call a “Culture of Living”, we can turn to one of the best friends a libertarian ever had, John Stuart Mill…
For more, see:
“Schiavo, Mill and the Culture of Living”

21

Jack 03.23.05 at 6:39 am

Andrew B., a better British parallel would be the Fox Hunting debate where constitutional heavy artillery is used on a seeminly trivial matter to feed the base.
It is also similar to the Tony Martin case. There a brief sketch of the highly emotive facts leads to outrage and calls for something to be done but a closer inspection of the facts suggests that the public sympathy was not deserved and provides no evidence that the courts were not capable of tackling the issue as curently constituted.
Hypocritical media coverage and political opportunism together can be deeply corrupting. How else can giving up a 15 year fight to save someone’s life be worse than putting people to death?
Will there be a response to the Federal Courts failure to take up their new powers? Does the weekend legislation open the door to anything other than the Schiavo case?

22

asg 03.23.05 at 1:58 pm

Comparisons of these issues to e.g. the “debate” over evolution is just a cheap trick, and frankly that deserves its very own corollary to Godwin’s Law. To put it more bluntly, here are some passages from the Schindler family’s website:
“MYTH: Terri is PVS (Persistent vegetative state)
FACT: The definition of PVS in Florida Statue 765.101:
Persistent vegetative state means a permanent and irreversible condition of unconsciousness in which there is:
(a) The absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of ANY kind.
(b) An inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment.
Terri’s behavior does not meet the medical or statutory definition of persistent vegetative state. Terri responds to stimuli, tries to communicate verbally, follows limited commands, laughs or cries in interaction with loved ones, physically distances herself from irritating or painful stimulation and watches loved ones as they move around her. None of these behaviors are simple reflexes and are, instead, voluntary and cognitive. Though Terri has limitations, she does interact purposefully with her environment.”
So, Brian W., IF the behavior attributed to Terri Schiavo is accurately represented in that passage (and I make no assertion that it is; I’m only saying that others have), to you this is the equivalent of a dispute over whether the earth is flat? Do you have any evidence or reasons to believe that the behavior described above is being fabricated by the family?
and
“MYTH: Many doctors have said that there is no hope for her.
FACT: Dr. Victor Gambone testified that he visits Terri 3 times a year. His visits last for approximately 10 minutes. He also testified, after viewing the court videotapes at Terri’s recent trial, that he was surprised to see Terri’s level of awareness. This doctor is part of a team hand-picked by her husband, Michael Schiavo, shortly before he filed to have Terri’s feeding removed. Contrary to Schiavo’s team, 14 independent medical professionals (6 of them neurologists) have given either statements or testimony that Terri is NOT in a Persistent Vegetative State. Additionally, there has never been any medical dispute of Terri’s ability to swallow. Even with this compelling evidence, Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, has denied any form of therapy for her for over 10 years…
So, anderson, if the claims made in this passage are accurate, the six neurologists testifying that Schiavo is not in a PVS are the equivalent of creationists? Do you have any independent reasons to believe this?

23

asg 03.23.05 at 1:59 pm

Dang it, the paragraph breaks I saw in the preview format didn’t show up in submit. Alas.

24

Marc 03.23.05 at 8:34 pm

The “facts” that asg posted are simply not true. There is simply no answer to the CAT scans that you can find on the web. Her cerebral cortex no longer exists. This case has been repeatedly litigated for years; the so-called medical claims on the web site have been determined to be utterly without merit, as have the legal issues – by numerous judges and medical experts. The level of science involved is, in fact, at the level of creationism. We see claims that fancier brain imaging techniques are needed, which is roughly the equivalent of claiming that the apparent absence of a limb requires confirming evidence from advanced scanning technology. We see claims that the patient just needs therapy – claims that defy medical science.

We see ugly political posturing, violations of marital rights, violations of the separation of powers, and escalating fanaticism that could well end up getting people who are not in a vegetative state killed. The same people pushing this nonsense just passed bills preventing malpractive awards – such as the one that the Schiavos received to pay for her care for all of these years. The same people pushing this nonsense passed laws – to save money – terminating care for poor people whose case is deemed hopeless even if their families want it continued. This is hypocricy and madness that we are seeing.

25

Movie Guy 03.24.05 at 1:19 am

What is the procedure for care of a person in such condition in England?

Come on, Chris. Do tell.

26

Alex F 03.24.05 at 8:37 am

Hey Chris, Harrys Place have a post up about the issue, and whilst Gene doesn’t address Nazi-namecalling, “where’s the outrage” doesn’t apply there, if there is included in “neo-con cheerleaders”.

27

Observer 03.25.05 at 5:03 am

I guess you will say something intelligent. Or not.

28

Christina S 03.25.05 at 2:42 pm

Welcome to the new American War where
Terri Schiavo is being denied our 14th Amendment.

I am an American who sat in on the Congressional Hearing last Sunday that passed a bill for Terri Schiavo’s “right to be protected by our government law,” that is once again being ignored.

It lasted 4 hours and heard quotes about “Jesus Christ” all the way to “Who would want politicians to make a decision on my life, leave my family business alone.”

This misconception about CONGRESS making decisions for “saving her life” is an outrage. The hearing was held because Terri Schiavo is being denied the freedom to the rights US citizens have, except her.

Having congress members fight “against protecting the rights” they CREATED FOR citizens is a total outrage!

This hearing was specifically to protect the 14th amendment,

“U.S. Constitution: Fourteenth Amendment

Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;

nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, WITHOUT THE DUE PROCESS OF LAW (Supreme Court Hearing with a Federal Judge);

nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the EQUAL PROTECTION of the laws.”

(http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment14/)

Equal protection:

Death row criminals (serial killers, child molestors, terrorists, etc) that are condemned to die have the right to be heard, by this 14th Amendment, in front of a Federal Judge for as the ultimate authority of upholding the law.

Terri Schiavo is not a criminal but has received a sentence to die from the “court” system (not congress). Therefore, by LAW, she has the right to be heard in front of a Federal Judge before she is executed.

Congress passed a bill last week insuring that she would be protected by the law to be heard. This law and now bill are being ignored by the court system and that is a criminal offense as of last Sunday night.

This is why I feel for our U.K. friend who has a right to feel as he does, the media is portraying a horrible spin on the truth.

Chris, investigate the truth and don’t believe everything that you hear from the media:

The bill was to protect the Constitutional Law, not to make decisions if Terri is to live or die.

Bashing the Republicans, not so fair. 47 Democrats voted FOR it & 5 Republicans voted against IT out of a total count of 261 politicians.

(http://www.detnews.com/2005/politics/0503/21/pol-123885.htm)

Targeting “Christians” who chose to value life over death as the single cause of passing a bill is illogical. If the “Christians” gave up the Commandment given to Moses, “Thou shall not kill,” and fighting for the value of life God gave to the Jews, the terrorists would have the same rights as Hitler. The Americans (along with many others) liberated those death camps. If the US didn’t value life, they wouldn’t have fought so hard for protecting it for the Jews and anyone else in this world.

The US has the right to free speach. This is why it is confusing to the world. We are free, within the bounds of legislation, to think for ourselves, and allowed to be heard, even in Terri’s case.

Freedom of choice and religion: She’s been rejected from her religious privilege of someone to share what the Christians believe, that “Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead, and her faith in Him will save her from eternal death.” This is her right and privilege as an American to hear before she dies within our country and it’s not for anyone else to say she can’t have that personal faith and comfort within the God she chose to believe in.

Against the partial information released about the law George Bush made as he was governer. The specifics are in the transcripts of the hearing and I ENCOURAGE you to seek the truth on this. What you say is not incorrect but very much incomplete.

As for the Nazi’s, they ultimately decided who had the right to live or die. Congress is just trying to insure the protection a person’s rights who doesn’t have a voice.

Peace.

29

paul d 03.27.05 at 10:49 am

Yes, the attempts by congress to “save” the Schiavo woman have been heavy-handed, and many politicos will indeed pay a price. But when liberal howls of derision reach the point of tarring those members who voted in favor of intervention with the Nazi brush, I turn off.

The Nazi comparison is absurd on its face. In the Nazis’nihilistic world, the state would have pulled the on Ms. Schiavo fifteen years ago. In the Nazis’ long list of undesirables – their taxonomy of the dispensable – Ms. Schiavo would have been lumped in with the infirm and mentally deficient; all those, in short, who are of no use to the state.

30

François 03.27.05 at 2:46 pm

This post is quoted in my general review of the Terry Schiavo case (in French, though): http://phnk.com/blog/index.php?2005/03/28/139-notes-de-lecture-sur-terry-schiavo

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