More about the fight over "Terri's Law"
Why does the women's movement shy away from Terri Schiavo? Read Ingrid Tischer's No Guts, No Glory
More on liberals and disability rights from Lisa Blumberg
Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, explains why disability rights groups are fighting for Terri Schiavo.
Read Nat Hentoff's Was Terri Schiavo Beaten in 1990? from the Village Voice
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Tuesday, Aug. 31, the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether Gov. Jeb. Bush's effort in "Terri's Law" to protect the life of Terri Schiavo is unconstitutional. Mouth magazine's Lucy Gwin asks Democratic candidate John Kerry why the disability rights take on the issue seems of so little interest to him.
Where does John Kerry stand
on our right to remain alive?
By Lucy Gwin
Give me ten minutes alone with the Democratic candidate and I'd pop the question: Does he support the right of disabled people to remain among the living?
I'd appeal to his grand ambition. Mr. Senator, I'd say, even Chicago Democrats no longer vote from the grave. So the forty million disabled people of voting age can't elect you President if the Right to Die gets to us first.
The single disability rights issue on the liberal agenda is our Right to Die. That's nowhere near the top of the disability-rights-needed-here list. What do we want? We want what you've got: the freedom to run around loose, alive and kicking.
Trouble is, our strange bedfellows in this fight to remain alive are Jeb Bush, George W., John Ashcroft, the Pope, and the National Right To Life Committee. Leftists take one look at that lineup and embrace euthanasia. Is that a knee-jerk liberal reaction, Mr. Senator?
Both parties seem to confuse the right to die with abortion rights -- as if we are what Jerry Lewis called us, "half-a persons." But look what's ahead for that famous half-a person, Florida's Terri Schiavo. Her estranged husband seeks permission to disconnect the tube through which she receives food and water. Terri is conscious, and has been heard to say "Pain!" and "Help me!" Long before she starves, she will dehydrate. Her tongue will turn black. Her eyeballs will crack. Many say she's too brain-damaged to feel it, but we all know even a goldfish would feel it.
Last November when Terri was news, you begged the question, telling Tallahassee reporters, "These are some very thorny, legitimate issues." What's so "thorny" about some guy forcefully dehydrating the wife he's replaced?
Then there's the Oregon law advertised as a new freedom. The only new freedom it affords is to physicians and pharmacists -- the freedom to kill sick or disabled people without risking prosecution. In May, when John Ashcroft challenged that law, you said that you "support the state's right to decide whether or not to legalize assisted suicide." Point of information: Oregon shells out forty bucks for a Medicaid death potion. Whether or not people with disabilities are better off dead, we sure are cheaper thataway.
That point is not lost on the insurance actuaries and malpractice defense lawyers who run America's health care. Their version of health care rationing is Futile Care Policy. Futile care says that if people are cheaper dead than alive, and incurable besides, spending health care resources to keep them alive is cruel, is wasteful, is futile.
When I handed my own advance medical directive -- Spare no expense. Keep me alive. -- to a hospital social worker, she made a sour face and called it "selfish." Is it? She was probably a Democrat. I am.
The Mayo Clinic published a study in 1996 with this finding: Health care professionals are more likely to consider CPR futile if the patient is not white. Please note that CPR is free and what we require is usually more costly. Why waste precious resources on people that most folks agree are better off dead?
Fear and loathing for disability are built into our get-ahead culture, so most would rather be dead than be a triple amputee like Max Cleland. That didn't stop him from serving as a senator from Georgia, and it doesn't stop him from campaigning his heart out for you.
You know Fred Fay, the Democrats' link to our beloved Justice For All campaign. Fred's so buggered up he hasn't left his bed in years. You had to visit him at home to get his take on the Tech Act.
No doubt you see value in Max, in Fred, and in Becky Ogle, your liaison to disabled voters. Meanwhile, hospitals across America are calling health care for the likes of them futile.
It would take a great President, a true Democrat, to lead the left away from its misplaced compassion, to roll back policies that declare our lives worthless, to fight for the right of all Americans to stay alive -- even if it meant standing alongside that boor, John Ashcroft.
Senator, I believe you are brave and capable enough to do all of that and more. Please let me know if you will.
Posted August 30, 2004.
Lucy Gwin is Editor of Mouth magazine.
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