Since When Does Pro-Life Mean Killing the Disabled?

First appeared in the Chicago Tribune, available here.

(By Bobby Schindler) – I sat in confusion while watching a recent GOP presidential debate. All but one candidate proudly expressed his pro-life positions, and a short time later, in response to a question on the Terri Schiavo case, some stated that the courts should decide whether it was acceptable for a disabled woman to be starved and dehydrated to death.

Wait a second. Wasn’t it the courts that made it legal to kill unborn children? How can one be against the courts permitting the deliberate killing of the unborn, but find it perfectly OK for the courts to purposely starve and dehydrate a disabled woman to death?

As far as I’m concerned, you can’t call yourself pro-life and be against one and for the other. This is why I was more than a little surprised by the responses of the front-runners and even a few second-tier candidates.

Their answers clearly reflected the ongoing influence of the mainstream media and its tendency to report only biased polls regarding my sister’s circumstances.

I believe that the question was a setup by moderator Chris Matthews to highlight this confusion and division in the GOP ranks on the issue of euthanasia.

Remember this is the same Chris Matthews who so heartlessly said the following about my father during an interview with radio host Don Imus when my sister was being dehydrated to death: “The parents … the father seems to be having — I hate to say this — a good time.”

Clearly, Mr. Matthews is not only intolerant toward the rights of people like Terri to live, he is also lacking in a basic tenet of human decency, which dictates that we do not attack people in the midst of their suffering.

Regardless of Matthews’ negative intentions, imagine for a second if all the Republican candidates were unified and emphatic in how troubling it is that a nation that once protected our disabled citizens is now starving and dehydrating to death the most vulnerable among us.

However, many candidates, as well as the majority of the American people, don’t realize the true nature of what was at stake in Terri’s case, let alone the larger issue. Contrary to what the mainstream media would have you believe, Terri’s situation was not just a pro-life matter, but also a disability rights issue. It was not about someone’s “right to die,” nor was it an “end-of-life” issue as was so often reported. Terri was a healthy young woman with a profound brain injury. She was not dying, she did not suffer from any “killer” disease. She was alert and interacted with her friends and family, and she was deliberately and cruelly starved to death.

Fact went unreported

Moreover, Terri’s case was not “hijacked” by the religious right, as the secular press so often claimed. Thirty disability rights groups supported my sister in her struggle for life. Ironically, when Terri’s case was receiving the most media attention, more disability organizations publicly spoke out in support of Terri’s life than pro-life organizations. I can guarantee you that that was never heard on the evening news.

The GOP presidential debate gave the candidates an opportunity to show their support of and speak directly to the disability rights community. This community has been trying to get the government to do more to protect the disabled, pleading for help on their behalf long before my sister’s case made national and international headlines.

In fact, if government would have listened to the disabledcommunity, Terri’s case wouldn’t have required congressional involvement in the first place.

Violation of rights

Sadly, some candidates played right into the hands of the partisan moderator, hemming and hawing about how this “was an issue better left to the courts.” Can’t you just imagine the thrill that gave Matthews?

My sister’s case was arguably one of the most egregious violations of an American citizen’s basic human rights in our nation’s history. The way it stands now, heinous criminals on Death Row have more protection and are treated with more dignity than people like Terri. Congress saw this and intervened to protect her.

Rather than suffer the ire of a hostile media and a largely uneducated public, members of Congress should be commended for stepping in to protect the life of one of their most vulnerable constituents. Not only was it appropriate for Congress to try to help Terri, it is what lawmakers are morally obligated to do in such cases.

Despite Terri’s death, it is my hope that our politicians will realize that this is one of the most significant issues facing our nation and pledge their unwavering commitment to do everything in their power to protect all disabled persons from being cruelly starved and dehydrated to death.

Though it is too late for Terri, tens of thousands of other “Terris” are still among us.