In 1990, a 26 year old Florida woman had a cardiac arrest, was successfully resuscitated but suffered massive brain damage and was left comatose. After two and a half months without improvement, she was diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state. Her name was Terri Schiavo.
Schiavo had no living will. Three years after Schiavo’s cardiac arrest, and after extensive, unsuccessful attempts to return Schiavo to a state of awareness, her husband, certain that Schiavo would not want to be kept alive by artificial means, petitioned a Florida court to remove her feeding tube.
There are few things more difficult than making end of life decisions for a loved one, and the pain is surely compounded when different family members disagree. Schiavo’s parents opposed the petition, and an exceedingly lengthy legal battle ensued. Thus was created a heartbreaking scenario in which Shiavo, who doctors said had no chance of reversing her condition, was kept on medical nutrition in a Florida facility for twelve more years.
There were myriad proceedings in Florida state courts, ultimately resulting in a ruling that Schiavo’s feeding tube should be removed. By then, the Schiavo case had become, for the far right, a political cause celebre. The “Pro-Life” movement went into overdrive, protesting the court’s decision and demanding that the political branches of government keep Schiavo alive, arguing that to remove her feeding tube was tantamount to murder.
Florida Republicans were quick to respond. Within a week after the tube was removed, the Florida state legislature met in emergency session and passed a bill giving Governor Jeb Bush the authority to intervene in the case. Governor Bush immediately ordered the feeding tube reinserted. More litigation followed, concluding when the Florida Supreme Court overturned the Florida law as unconstitutional.
At this point, the “Pro-Life” groups demanded that the federal government act to keep Schiavo alive. So the Republicans in Congress promptly joined the fray, passing a bill transferring jurisdiction of the Schiavo case to the federal courts. Jeb Bush’s older brother, President George W. Bush, signed the bill into law. But in the federal courts, as in Florida state courts, all of Schiavo’s parents’ petitions and appeals were denied. The litigation finally ended when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the matter.
On March 18, 2005, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. She died 13 days later. An autopsy revealed that Schiavo’s brain weighed half that of a healthy human brain, that she was blind and incapable of thought or emotion. The medical examiner concluded: “This damage was irreversible.”
Terri Schiavo came to mind last night as I watched The Rachel Maddow Show report on a new and unspeakably cruel Trump Administration policy, one in which severely ill immigrants, including children with cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other life-threatening conditions are facing deportation.
Across the country, immigrants have been receiving boilerplate letters from Citizenship and Immigration Services informing them that applications for renewal under the Medical Deferred Action program will no longer be considered. They are being informed they have 33 days in which to leave the country or face deportation proceedings.
Doctors tell us that the Trump Administration failed to consider the disastrous impact this new blanket policy will have on children and adults battling HIV, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, leukemia and other diseases. Perhaps the architects of this policy are as clueless as former Congressman (now Idaho GOP Chairman) Raul Labrador who once told a constituent, "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care." But I think the Administration was well aware that many immigrants receiving life-saving medical treatment in our country would not long survive once this policy was enacted.
We can’t know with certainty if the Trump Administration was indifferent to the consequences of its new policy, or intentionally cruel. But either way, the impact on many immigrants confronting dire medical circumstances is the same: they will face a death sentence.
So now I ask: Where is the “Pro-life” outrage? Where are the protests, the prayer vigils, the calls to Senators and Members of Congress demanding action? Where are the voices of the people who insisted that the federal government do everything in its power to keep alive a vegetative Terri Schiavo? Why have these people become invisible? Why are they silent now?