BOULDER — A powerful precursor to the national shouting match over “death panel” health-reform this summer was the Terri Schiavo case, where a woman with severe brain damage was taken off her feeding tube and starved to death over the course of two weeks in March 2005. Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler, an advocate for the rights of the disabled, spoke at the University of Colorado last night in a semi-filled chemistry lecture hall. The timing of the appearance isn’t coincidental.
“I supported your family,” said a woman in the audience during the Q&A session. “But why don’t you leave Obama out of this?”
“I thank you for your support, but I won’t leave him out of this,” Schindler said.
There is little that is cut-and-dried about the Schiavo case, a circus episode of the mass-mediated political culture wars, where the 24/7 infotainment news cycle left no room for reflection or subtlety, where the cast of characters and string pullers included Karl Rove and Mark Fuhrman, strange but apt bedfellows– men who have come to represent both the stamp and taint of contemporary authority.
But they were not the subject of the talk at CU Monday. Neither really was Terri Schiavo. The subject was the “culture of death” that has allegedly grown up in the United States in recent decades.
According to Schindler, two developments led directly to his sister’s end: The fact that providing food and water is now viewed as medical treatment if the food and water have to be delivered through tubes; and the creation in 1972 of the “persistent vegetative state” medical diagnosis, a form of contemporary death sentence, according to Schindler.
How did these two ideas come about and why have they been so widely accepted? There is financial incentive, said Schindler but, more important, there is also profound prejudice against humans suffering cognitive disorders.
The main culprit is an altered biological-science and bioethics mentality, which has seeped into pop culture, influencing news-media and Hollywood elite, who in turn spawn the millions of callous media products of the blogosphere and beyond. The name “Terri Schiavo” is now a punchline of the YouTube network, said Schindler, the endless joking a product and accelerator of the prejudice.
President Obama has surrounded himself with advisers who ascribe to and promote this “culture of death.” Pointing audience members to articles written by health-reform critic Betsy McCaughey, Schindler underlined the role of Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in shaping the Obama Administration’s views on health reform. Emmanuel is Obama’s “health rationer-in-chief” wrote McCaughey in the Wall Street Journal at the end of August, fueling endlessly forwarded email-list discussion.
Schindler elaborated for the CU students: Emmanuel is just one of many Obama advisers who have elevated the scientific culture of death, which now guides health reform. These are men and women who accept abortion and its coarsening effect; who embrace the “quality of life” medical value system, which is subjective; who see personhood as something tied to mental awareness or sensibility, not something innate, a given part of any human with a beating heart.
The talk was sponsored by the local chapter of Students for Life. Refreshments were served after the talk at a local church. Priests in the audience made unprompted comments and clarifications about the Church’s position on related matters.
“Yes, Father, did you have a question?” Schindler said at one point, nodding to one of the men in Roman collars near the back.
A woman at the front with long salt-and-pepper hair in a pony tail was disturbed by the course of the conversation. Insurance companies make these life and death decisions too, she said.
“There are young people here and I feel like you’re trying to influence them,” which is when she added for the second time “Why don’t you leave Obama out of it?”
“I won’t,” Schindler told the audience.