Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Who Pays?

Once again the proponents of less government and more individual liberties strike a blow for government to barge in on the most intimate and delicate decisions a family has to make.

With just days left before Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is to be removed, the Florida Legislature moved once again to intervene in the case, rushing ahead Monday with a bill to keep the brain-damaged woman alive.

A vote on “Terri’s Law II,” put together by top Republicans in the House and Senate, is expected later this week and could go to Gov. Jeb Bush for his signature Friday, the same day the tube is scheduled to be removed.

In late 2003, after Schiavo’s feeding tube had been taken out when a court order permitted it, Bush and lawmakers intervened in the long-running battle over her fate, passing a law that allowed the governor to have the tube reinserted. But that effort was ultimately struck down by the state Supreme Court, which ruled the law unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the governor’s appeal.

In an effort to get around another legal challenge, legislators have crafted a much broader bill. It says that no patients in a persistent vegetative state — Schiavo’s diagnosis — can have their feeding tubes removed unless they meet one of several conditions, including:

• They have left written instructions approving the denial of food and water.

• There is “clear and convincing evidence” that before becoming incapacitated, they “expressly” directed the withholding of food and water.

• Death is imminent and a feeding tube would not help.

“We as a state would have this position for this situation for these people,” said Sen. Dan Webster, a Republican from Ocoee and one of the bill’s sponsors. “The state would err on the side of life.”

And to make sure that the new law would affect Schiavo, a bill provision states that it would apply to all Floridians in a persistent vegetative state who are still alive. [Miami Herald]

I don’t want to sound churlish, but nowhere in this gesture of generosity to the right-to-life crowd do I see any mention of who’s going to pay to keep people like Ms. Schiavo alive. Long-term care isn’t cheap, and I’d feel as if there was some real intent behind this intrusion if the state was willing to assume the expense of maintaining these people for the rest of their so-called natural life. As it is, I don’t see anything in this law other than foisting the burden of the law and morality back on the shoulders of the families, who are already carrying the burden of loss, and relieving the state of any responsibility. The Legislature is in effect saying, “You can’t let them die and you have to pay to keep them alive. Good luck.” That’s cruel to both the victim and their family.

Update: Go see Jim Morin’s cartoon in today’s Miami Herald. He nails it.