Politics & Policy

What If They Called 9-1-1

Terri Schiavo and protecting the innocent.

If Terri Schiavo were able, she would go to the nearest telephone, dial 9-1-1, and tell the operator that people are trying to kill her. Police officers would respond, and they would take whatever action was necessary, up to and including laying down their own lives, to ensure that no harm came to this innocent, defenseless woman. If the perpetrators were identified, they would be arrested and prosecuted, perhaps to receive very lengthy sentences in prison. She cannot make that phone call, of course, but those who love her have made it for her, crying out to any and all who might have the authority to stand in the path of what now appears inevitable: the very public starvation and death of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo.

How on earth can this be?

As I write this it is Thursday morning, and as things currently stand Ms. Schiavo has been without food or water for nearly six days. She is being starved so as to allow those who would hasten her death and those who merely acquiesce to it the pretense that she will have died of “natural causes.” The physical manifestations of her deprivations have become apparent to those attending to her, and in the media we are now treated to speculation on how long she might live and what she might be experiencing as she draws ever nearer to the end. In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, for example, there appeared a story under the headline, “Ceasing Food and Fluid Can Be Painless.” Incredibly, the point of the story seemed to be that death by starvation is an experience to be enjoyed, something we should all look forward to. It is staggering that things have come to such a pass.

The details of the case have been exhaustively reported here on NRO and elsewhere, but Ms. Schiavo’s fate can be traced through a nearly impenetrable cloud of legal rulings, page upon page of citations and references and footnotes, all of it laced with words like movant and respondent and all the other esoteric terms that seem to flow so freely from the lips and pens of lawyers and judges. It is this specialized language that allows those employed in the law to imagine themselves superior to the rest of us, the unwashed of the lower orders, to whom such language is foreign. And it is this language that the various lawyers and judges will hide behind when Terri Schiavo dies, when all their writs and motions and petitions have flown from office to office and courthouse to courthouse before floating down and congealing into a massive pile of recyclable rubbish.

Earlier this week I discussed the Schiavo matter with two coworkers, both of whom claimed to have been following the case in the news. Both of these men were under the impression that Ms. Schiavo is brain dead, and that she is surviving only with the help of some marvel of modern medical machinery. Both these impressions are false, but they seem nonetheless to be widely held. Ms. Schiavo breathes on her own, and she is not dependent on machinery for any of her bodily functions. She is, according to some doctors, capable of some level of cognition and interaction with others. The only aspect of her care that might be described as “artificial” is the feeding tube which her husband, with the complicity of the Florida and federal courts, has had removed. It is her husband’s prerogative to do so, these courts have ruled, based on what he claims she told him years ago. Mr. Schiavo’s claims of marital obligations might be more easily respected were he not involved in a de facto marriage–complete with two children–to another woman. Despite all this, the vast machinery of the judiciary remains indifferent to the suffering of Terri Schiavo.

Brian Nichols, the man accused of murdering four people in Atlanta earlier this month, will stand trial for those crimes sometime in the next year or two. Unless something extraordinary is revealed during his trial he very likely will be convicted and sentenced to death. If at some point during the appeals process he sustains an injury similar to that suffered by Terri Schiavo fifteen years ago, will our robed masters twiddle their thumbs just as impassively as he is rolled to the execution chamber? No, they will not. They will tell us that even a convicted mass-murderer is deserving of all the protections the law can provide, the protections now being denied to a helpless, innocent woman.

By the time you read this Terri Schiavo may well be dead. Our sophisticated betters lecture us that due process has run its course and that this is what the law demands. If this is so, then Charles Dickens was right: The law is a ass.

Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.

Jack Dunphy served with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than 30 years. Now retired from the LAPD, he works as a police officer in a neighboring city. Jack Dunphy is his nom de cyber.

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