In the pre-dawn hours of March 21, 2005, and after being awakened to do so, President Bush signed into law the legally-questionable and politically-motivated bill entitled “An Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo.” The bill allowed the family of Terri Schiavo to file suit in federal court in the hopes that her life could be forcibly sustained. Upon signing the bill President Bush declared, “[W]here there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life.”
An interesting statement from the man who, while Governor of Texas, presided over more executions of convicted felons than occurred in all the other States combined. A particularly hypocritical statement since, while Governor of Texas, Bush refused to grant clemency even in cases with serious questions and substantial doubts.
As revealed and discussed by Alan Berlow in his 2003 article for the Atlantic Monthly, “The Texas Clemency Memos,” Bush was presented with several pleas for clemency in which there were serious questions and substantial doubts which, according to now-President Bush, should have created a presumption in favor of life.
The most infamous of those cases was that of Terry Washington, a mentally-retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old child. In addition to the underlying moral and legal legitimacy of executing the mentally retarded (a practice since deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court), Washington's mental handicap was never presented to the jury which sentenced him, nor did his attorney retain a mental health expert to testify on Washington's behalf. Moreover, Washington's counsel never presented the substantial mitigating evidence that Washington and his ten siblings were all regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts. Such lapses by Washington's defense counsel commonly constitute ineffective assistance in capital cases.
None of these serious legal questions and substantial doubts about the adequacy of his representation excused Washington's heinous crime of murdering Beatrice Huling by stabbing her 85 times. However, the above factors clearly raised serious questions and substantial doubts as to the decision to condemn Washington to death instead of incarcerating him for life. According to President Bush, these serious questions and substantial doubts should have created a presumption in favor of sparing Washington's life. Governor Bush, apparently, was neither so enlightened nor so compassionate.
President Bush's hypocrisy on the Terri Schiavo bill is not limited to his refusal to spare the lives of convicted murders that were denied a fair trial. His hypocrisy extends to his disinterest in applying the presumption of life to helpless individuals similar to Terri Schiavo.
Also while governor of Texas, Bush signed into law the Advance Directive Act which authorizes physicians to refuse to honor a patient's advance directive, or the wishes of a patient's guardian, and discontinue life-sustaining medical care, including ventilators and feeding tubes. The Act was used March 15, 2005, to remove 6-month-old Sun Hudson from a ventilator at Texas Children's Hospital, his parents' wishes to the contrary notwithstanding. Hudson died is his mother's arms moments later.
Under the Act, a physician, with the approval of an ethics committee, may override an advance directive or a parent's wishes in so-called “futility cases” where continued treatment is not deemed medically beneficial. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida state courts have consistently ruled that there is overwhelming medical evidence that she is in a permanent or persistent vegetative state, from which she cannot and will not ever recover. Mrs. Schiavo's cerebral cortex is gone, replaced by cerebral spinal fluid, an incurable condition. As explained by one Florida state court, “Unless an act of God, a true miracle, were to replace her brain, Theresa will always remain in an unconscious, reflexive state, totally dependent upon others to feed her and care for most of her private needs.”
Truly, Terri Schiavo's is a futility case. Under Texas law, enacted by the Texas legislature and signed by Governor Bush, regardless of whether Terri would want to live in such a condition, and regardless of her family's wishes, Terri's physicians could discontinue her life-sustaining treatment as non-beneficial. Apparently, President Bush thinks Texas’ Advance Directive Act is wrong and runs counter to the “culture of life” to which he so frequently refers. Luckily for President Bush, Terri Schiavo is in Florida, not Texas.
If President Bush truly thinks discontinuing life-sustaining measures is contrary to the “presumption in favor of life,” why was there no ad hoc federal legislation to save the life of young Sun Hudson? Was it because Hudson was black? Was it because his parents declined to exploit their helpless child and turn their personal tragedy into a three-ring media circus? Or was it simply that it would have been just a little too transparently hypocritical for Bush to contravene a State law he authorized?
Regardless of how the sad tale of Terri Schiavo ends, Bush's hasty signing of “An Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo,” and his sanctimonious declaration regarding “a presumption in favor of life,” reek of hypocrisy and political opportunism.
Other Articles by Ken Sanders