The Strip rarely finds itself agreeing with curmudgeonly Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, but after the mind-blowing display of overreaching by Congress, when our representatives passed a law in an attempt to affect a single person, we found ourselves strangely comforted by something Scalia wrote more than a decade ago.
Da judge was agreeing with his Supreme pals, who had decided to uphold a Missouri Supreme Court decision about a similar case of life-and-death involving Nancy Cruzan. When folks refer to the famous 1990 Cruzan decision, they usually point to it as the moment when the Supreme Court upheld a person's constitutional "right to die." But actually, the Supes were telling the Cruzans that they couldn't pull a feeding tube from their brain-damaged daughter. The state of Missouri had ruled that there wasn't enough "clear and convincing" evidence of Nancy Cruzan's wishes to stay off life support, so they wouldn't let Nancy's family stop her from being fed. (Later, the Cruzans produced that evidence and met that standard, and Missouri's courts allowed the family to cut off Nancy's lifeline.)
Scalia agreed with his colleagues that Missouri's standard made sense, but in his separate opinion, he lashed out that the feds had no business considering the matter at all. It was a state affair, he wrote. He added that criteria for deciding when a life is worth saving or when it's "inappropriate" for medical efforts to keep someone alive were "neither set forth in the Constitution nor known to the nine Justices of this Court any better than they are known to nine people picked at random from the Kansas City telephone directory."
Boy, was he right. When it comes to matters of life and death, the last people you want to get involved are folks from this part of the country.
Well-known Missourians helped turn the Schiavo battle into a freaking circus. Way before last week's headlines, no one was keeping up the spirits of the anti-right-to-die movement more than our own John Ashcroft. As Missouri governor, the preacher's son presided over the state's fight to keep Nancy Cruzan alive, but even after the Supreme Court and Missouri courts had resolved that case in favor of allowing the removal of a feeding tube, Ashcroft fought hard just the next year against parents in a similar St. Louis case. Christine Busalacchi had been so badly injured in a 1987 car accident that doctors had to remove part of her brain to keep her alive and on a feeding tube. In 1991, her parents became convinced that their daughter would not recover, and they tried to have her feeding tube removed. But then Ashcroft stepped in, and the Busalacchis' agony was extended another two years as they fought for the right to let their daughter go. "[Aschroft] just injected his own religious beliefs in my daughter's case," Peter Busalacchi recently told a Florida paper, bemoaning the same interference into the Schiavo matter.
With that sort of example-setting, it wasn't surprising that Missourians were also making their presence felt on the front lines of the Schiavo debacle.
The governor's dad, Rep. Roy Blunt, the House majority whip, was awfully prevalent in televised coverage of the "Palm Sunday Compromise " -- or, as this tenderloin refers to it, "the night Congress lost its mind." Liberals have had a field day, of course, pointing out that the Republican blowhards in our national legislative body abandoned two of the hallowed trinity of conservative ideals -- the sanctity of marriage and states' rights -- in service of the holiest of right-wing callings, anti-abortion radicalism (disguised as end-of-life sanctimony). It made for a tawdry display, watching representatives, many of whom couldn't pronounce Schiavo correctly, trample on Michael Schiavo's rights as a husband and Florida's as a state on their way to pass a law intended to throw the Schiavo case into federal court.
"Tonight the House has undertaken a mission of mercy. Together with the Senate, we are acting to prevent Terri Schiavo from involuntarily dying of thirst or starvation," Daddy Blunt said as he cracked his whip, shepherding all but five Republicans into line to vote for the bill. But a public that hasn't been able to see through the cynical use of the same-sex marriage issue to bolster Republican votes, for example, did see through this gambit. Even evangelicals, a CBS poll indicated, could see that Congress had meddled where it didn't belong.
The Show Me state's proudest moment last week? That might have been when 56-year-old Columbia homeless-shelter operator Lana Jacobs was arrested for trying to break through police guarding the Pinellas Park hospice where Schiavo was dying. Jacobs wanted to bring Schiavo a bottle of water -- which she couldn't possibly drink on her own, of course. But Jacobs knew that. Her act was purely symbolic.
And that's fitting, because for many of Missouri's right-to-life crusaders, families such as the Schiavos and the Busalacchis and the Cruzans are exactly that -- convenient symbols for their calculated stunts intended to teach us all a lesson.
But all this cutlet ever learns from these zealots is that some people can't keep their Sunday-school learning out of the way when adults are trying to make mature decisions.
Tony Ortega talks about this week's Pitch with KRBZ 96.5's Lazlo after 4 p.m. Wednesday.