George W. Bush said, “It is wisest to always err on the side of life.” President Bush is fond of touting the “culture of life,” usually when speaking to opponents of abortion, and most recently during the Terri Schiavo fiasco. The president and radical conservatives in Congress were practically falling over themselves to get in on the media circus surrounding Schiavo?s death, and there was no shortage of pundits and politicians who were simply outraged that the courts were not deciding the way they wanted.What is truly outrageous is that they claim to support a “culture of life.” Lost in the obsessive coverage outside the Florida hospice was the fate of a six month old boy in Texas. Sun Hudson was born with a genetic disorder that is often fatal, and his life support was removed on March 14 after his doctors decided that he had no hope of recovery.
This was made possible by a law signed by George W. Bush while he was governor of Texas that gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient?s family?s wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Sun Hudson was removed from life support against his mother?s wishes because of this piece of legislation.
The Hudson case is the first time ever that a court has allowed a hospital?s economic concerns to override the wishes of the patient?s guardians. “They gave up in six months,” Wanda Hudson, the child?s mother, told the Houston Chronicle. “They made a terrible mistake.” Wanda apparently was not “cable ready,” and she failed to get support from Right to Life groups.
In a similar case, Spiro Nikolouzos may soon be removed from life support because health care providers believe his case is futile. Nikolouzos is unable to speak and must be fed through a tube because of a shunt in his brain, but his wife says that he can recognize family members and show emotion.
Apparently the lives of Texans who can not afford to pay for their health care or not important to politicians and the Right to Life groups. If Hudson had received funds from conservative groups like the Schindlers did, she may have been able to challenge the Futile Care Law.
Terri Schiavo happened to be a media-friendly subject and an excellent tool for politicians looking to shore up their base as they start fund-raising for the midterm elections.
These politicians turned a woman?s final days into a travesty, manipulating emotions and spreading misinformation about the case. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), made comments insinuating that Michael Schiavo did not deserve to be in custody of his wife.
Schiavo spent the first seven years after Terri?s collapse doing everything imaginable to save her, even training as a nurse. DeLay apparently does not feel the same need to protect the lives of those falling victim to the Futile Care Law in the state that he is supposed to be representing.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), made a diagnosis of Schiavo based on “examining” her via long distance. From these few outdated and heavily-edited video clips he determined that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, apparently picking up on something missed by the other doctors who actually examined her in person for extended amounts of time.
Senator Rick Santorum (RVirginia/Pennsylvania), even managed to get some face time with Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group that used blockade tactics against clinics in the ?80s and early ?90s. One of Terry?s closest followers was convicted of murdering an abortion provider, and Terry arranged for a dead fetus to be delivered to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic Convention.
Some quotes from Terry may be considered troubling:”…we are called by God to conquer this country. We don?t want equal time. We don?t want Pluralism. We want theocracy.”
Apparently, Santorum has the time to meet with this questionable character and get personally involved with the Schiavo case, but has nothing to say about the recent sharp increase of murders in Philadelphia. The number of murders is up 14 percent from the same period last year, but apparently these lives aren?t worthy of action from Santorum, especially since there is little political gain to be made off of these particular tragedies.
When Bush speaks about a culture of life, he is most likely speaking about abortion or euthanasia. However, there is much more to supporting life than these two issues. How can Bush claim to support a “culture of life” when he approved of 152 executions, including those of mentally-challenged convicts, as governor of Texas? Several of those cases involved convictions that were surrounded by doubt, but he usually only spent fifteen minutes reviewing each case, when most other governors spend hours examining casedetails. The reason given for spending so little time assessing these cases was that he trusted the courts on life or death matters. Supporting a real culture of life would require us to think beyond the latest made for TV drama on the 24 hour news stations.
If Terri Schiavo?s death is a tragedy, why are we not appalled that 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes, and three-fourths of these deaths are children under the age of five? Here in the United States, 31 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they are either hungry or unsure of where their next meal will come from.
Where is the outrage? Why is the media not covering this? Why are there no politicians working overtime to do something about this? Malnutrition is a serious world issue, but it is rarely mentioned in the United StatesThe World Health Organization estimates that close to 800 million people suffer from malnutrition, a condition that contributes to early death and increased risk of disease, and poses a threat to developing economies.
While President Bush was frantically fighting to keep one woman?s feeding tube in place, the war that he started has nearly doubled the rate of malnutrition in Iraqi children. According to Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Human Rights Commission?s special expert on the right to food, four percent of Iraqis under the age of five went hungry in the months after Saddam?s ouster in April 2003, and the rate nearly doubled to almost eight percent last year. Ziegler also stated that the situation is “a result of the war led by coalition forces.”
There are many other issues involving life where the president and his administration have fallen short. Recent Medicare cuts make it increasingly difficultfor those who rely on Medicare to get adequate treatment. How many Americans die because they can?t afford an organ transplant or other expensive treatment?
What about the resolution which the Republican majority on the House Budget Committee rammed through in March of 2003 that cuts $844 million from veterans? medical care? This also includes disability compensation and other benefits, as well as payments to their families if the veteran was killed in action.
Why did we have $900 million to give to Halliburton for the reconstruction of Iraq, when we don?t have the funds to ensure adequate care for our veterans? Why did Congress buy Bush a yacht last November when our troops still don?t have the supplies they need to protect themselves?
If we are to believe that Bush is really in favor of a culture of life, why do we only hear about it when a relevant issue surfaces in the news? The greatest way for us to demonstrate that we support life is to actually act on our claims, and reach out to those who will never be on the news. It is very simple to volunteer at a local food bank, soup kitchen, veterans? hospital, homeless shelter or YMCA. We should make all lives our concern, not just when it is a political issue or on the television.
Unfortunately, to some conservatives, not all lives are equally important and worthy of being protected. My response to them is that you can?t have it both ways. If you genuinely believe in the sanctity of life, then you must fight for the right to life for all people, not just fetuses and those with brain damage.
I am waiting for proof that conservatives really value every person, not just potential voters and campaign donors. Right now, their actions are definitely speaking louder than their words.
Kristen Gross is a junior majoring in political science and anthropology.