U.S. District Judge James Whittemore has refused to order the reinsertion of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube, apparently consigning the woman to death by starvation.
To put it simply, this is a gruesome case for any number of reasons. At the most basic level, Schiavo's situation is painful beyond belief to contemplate and all of those who care for her–despite different opinions about how to treat her and ugly accusations about motivations–must be going through hell in a 1,000 ways. As Reasoners Tim Cavanaugh and Ronald Bailey have suggested in different responses to the issue, there are very few simple answers here, and many, many questions to ask–about definitions of life, the state of brain science, humane ways to either extend or end the life of patients, and more.
Adding to the grimness of the spectacle is the political uses to which the case has already been and will be put to use. As a Hit & Run reader tipped me off yesterday (can't find the email to give proper credit), congressional Republicans are ready, willing, and able to exploit the issue for electoral purposes. Reports the Wash Post:
In a memo distributed only to Republican senators, the Schiavo case was characterized as "a great political issue" that could pay dividends with Christian conservatives, whose support is essential in midterm elections such as those coming up in 2006.
Whole thing here.
One can also expect the Democrats to do something similar. They've already used the case to embrace a squirrely, born-again dedication to federalism and state's rights (just as the Republicans have ignored their longstanding devotion to the same). If the GOP harps on this case to its pro-life faction, you can be sure the Dems will be doing the same to its pro-choice contingent. The Schiavo case has already become the latest chapter in the ongoing culture wars, the next installment after the dreaded question of whether French fries should be called Freedom fries.
I assume that for all the people who actually know Terry Schiavo, there's no relief or feeling of vindication. Certainly not on the part of her family, who wanted to keep her alive and who apparently offered to pay for her medical care (a solution with many merits). But not even for her husband, Michael Schiavo, who on scant-to-non-existent evidence is increasingly impugned as selfish and greedy, the third in a triptych of celebrity wife-haters Scott Peterson and Robert Blake.
Indeed, what might be most appalling about the case is that while the people closest to the tragedy of a young woman collapsing and suffering brain damage deal with all the consequences of that, politicians and operatives on all sides of the issue are in fat city and will be feasting on the wasted body of Terry Schiavo for years to come.
Update: As a number of readers have pointed out, folks at Powerline and other blogs are questioning the veracity of the GOP memo mentioned above. Details here.