Sunday, March 20, 2005

Politicians, medical ethics and bills of attainder

Congressional “conservatives” radically impose themselves in a medical dispute.
March 20. 2005

To paraphrase the Irish writer Brendan Behan, there is no situation so bad that cannot be made worse by the appearance of a politician. [He said “policeman” but he hung around bars a lot.] And the worse thing that can happen is Congress showing up, a pack Mark Twain described as America’s only criminal class. Now, they have intervened in the sad case of Terri Schiavo in Florida. She has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years because of a heart attack that led to brain damage. Only a courageous state judge and Ms. Schiavo’s husband stand in the way of one of the grossest invasions of private life--and of an independent judiciary--in recent times. Congress is passing a bill that would force doctors to reinsert the feeding tube to Ms. Schiavo despite repeated and consistent court rulings that they need not sustain her life. President Bush is flying to Washington a day early from vacation to sign it. To take matters from the inconceivable to the preposterous, the last people you would expect to be involved in this government intrusion would be politicians who describe themselves as “conservatives.” There is nothing conservative about Congress jumping into the medical decision of a single family against the rulings of the judicial branch. Real conservatives should be having apoplexy. (But then, these are the same people who think Presidents can send 100,000 troops to invade another country without a declaration of war by Congress and that it’s cool to run up billions of dollars in debt, but that’s a different story). Virtually none of the newspapers reporting the story could find lawyers who agreed Congress had a legal right to interfere. Republicans involved said it was not a political issue, but the Washington Post printed an unsigned memo distributed to Republican senators saying the stand would appeal to the party’s base. Among the problems the bill should--but won’t--incur in Congress, is that it probably is a bill of attainder, legislation that singles out an individual for punishment or a loss of rights or property without a trial (Ms. Schiavo’s husband, perhaps even Ms. Schiavo, herself), which is expressly forbidden in the U. S. Constitution [Article 1, Section 9, Pgh 3]. This kind of legislation is what we fought the Revolution over. [The legally obsessed are invited to see Plaut v Spendthrift Farms, Inc., written by Justice Antonin Scalia, of all people.] The Florida judge (who is now under police protection) essentially told them to shove it. So has the Supreme Court [audio]. Virtually no one outside of Congress--or perhaps including no one in Congress--thinks they have a legal right to interfere. Ignoring which side is right in this issue--and both sides can make a moral argument deserving respect--this is a simple outrage. Watching politicians masturbate is not a felicitous sight under any circumstances. This, however, is simply too much!


Larry Maxcy said...


Excellent statement, especially about the bill of attainder.

Walter E. Wallis said...

...without a declaration of war?
The specific wording of a declaration of war is not enumerated in the constitution, so congress has tried to weasel out of their responsibility and play both sides of the road.
I am trying to think of something good to say about congress. Get back to me.

Joel Shurkin said...

good luck.