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"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." - John Philpot Curran


The Broader Implications of the Terri Schiavo Case

Despite a last-minute effort by Congress and President Bush to allow a federal hearing for Terri Schiavo, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore has already denied an appeal, saying that the arguments made by Schiavo's parents failed to establish a "substantial likelihood of success." It would seem that hope for Terri is quickly fading.

I have refrained from commenting on the plight of Terri Schiavo because I really don't know all the details of the case, and I didn't want my contribution to end up being just another knee-jerk response from a pro-life Christian. While I believe that what we are witnessing in Florida is a case of state-sanctioned murder, there are broader implications that need to be explored.

First, allow me to preface my remarks by saying that you will find few people who share my strong pro-life convictions. I think that abortion is perhaps the worst sin our nation has committed; it is a sin against God and man that is no longer merely tolerated, but embraced as a sacrament. I believe that physician-assisted suicide is legalized murder, taking us one step closer to the mainstream acceptance of euthanasia. And because I hold the sanctity of human life in the highest regard, I believe that those who take the life of another person should, according to biblical guidelines, be expected to pay the ultimate price for their crime.

Let me add that I think the Florida courts are wrong. They have essentially sentenced Terri Schiavo--a woman who has not been convicted of any crime--to death by starvation, a cruel and inhumane punishment that would never be imposed on even the most vile, despicable serial killer.

I also believe that Michael Schiavo, Terri's so-called "husband," is a liar, an adulterer and a sorry excuse for a man. He once said, "I believe in the vows I took with my wife--through sickness, in health, for richer or poorer. I married her because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I'm going to do that." (Did I mention that he's a liar?)

Chuck Baldwin, pastor, columnist and radio talk show host, had this to say regarding Michael Schiavo's marital fidelity: "Michael maintains that his efforts are motivated only by his desire to fulfill Terri's wish that she be allowed to die … Since Michael didn't seem to care about Terri's wishes when he decided to commit adultery, why should anyone believe him when he says he is only honoring her wish to let her starve to death?"

While it would certainly be nice to see Michael do the honorable thing and stand by his wife, I think it's safe to say that his marriage has been damaged beyond repair. He committed adultery and fathered two children out of wedlock. He has clearly given up on Terri and now only wants to put her out of his misery. If Michael has any shred of honor left in his wretched being, he will consent to a divorce and turn guardianship of Terri over to her parents. It doesn't take the wisdom of King Solomon to realize that would be the best solution for the parties involved.

All of that said, I must confess that I'm worried about the actions of Congress and the president in this matter and what they mean for our political future. I realize the bill that was passed and signed into law early Monday morning specifically states that it sets no precedent, but in reality it does. If our elected officials can arbitrarily alter judicial jurisdiction for a particular case--even if it is to save a life--what assurance do we have that the same tactic won't be employed for more sinister reasons?

There are many conservatives who believe that what Congress did was score a major victory in the fight against judicial activism. Referring to Article III of the U.S. Constitution, they contend that Congress has the explicit authority to establish or change the jurisdiction of the federal courts. By exercising this power, so the argument goes, it is possible to reign in judges who refuse to abide by the Constitution.

This solution, however, ignores the root cause of the problem, which is the activist judiciary itself. All it would take is one federal judge to rule any such law unconstitutional, and we'd be right back where we started. The best defense against rule by judicial fiat is to elect representatives and senators who understand their constitutional obligation to impeach those judges who abuse their power.

In addition to the uncertain effects on our legal system, I am concerned that this might pave the way for the federalization of issues over which the states now have sole jurisdiction. If federal jurisdiction can be assigned to any issue on a case-by-case basis, we might one day see states' rights eliminated altogether. Just as I think it would be a tragedy to ban capital punishment on the basis that one innocent person may be wrongfully convicted, I also believe it would be wrong to trample on states' rights and set a dangerous judicial precedent on the basis that one innocent person may be spared.

None of this is to say that Terri Schiavo should be sacrificed in the name of states' rights. I understand that desperate situations sometimes call for desperate measures, and I will allow for the possibility that what Congress did may fall within our nation's constitutional framework.

But where does it end? Now that members of Congress have exercised this authority over the courts, should we now expect them to intervene in the same way on behalf of others? Should a new law be passed that will allow the federal government to become involved in the physician-assisted suicide cases that are sure to arise? What about abortion? Why does Terri Schiavo deserve federal intervention while over a million pre-born children are murdered each year by their own mothers?

At this point, I am neither condemning nor condoning the actions of Congress and President Bush. However, I do think we need to consider that even political decisions made with the very best of intentions may have long-term, unforeseen consequences.

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