Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Having Your Cake And Eating It

I think it's been pretty clear to most of my readers that I don't think much of Michael Schiavo. I find his story about Terri's "wish" to not be kept alive incredible, I find his efforts to portray himself as the caring husband unbelievable, and his attempt to portray Bob & Mary Schindler as the villains of the conflict contemptible. Furthermore, if, as I suspect, it was his actions which put Terri in her current state, his behavior would have been despicable.

These sentiments, as they have found their way into my writing about Terri, have prompted some to accuse me of "hating" Michael or of being uncharitable towards him. This, of course, is false. I don't hate Michael: I think he is pursuing an evil course of action against an innocent third person, and as such, it is my duty, and that of every other decent person, to try to stop him. If he relented from his relentless pursuit of Terri's death I'd be perfectly content to let him go about his life and never utter another word about him.

But I am not, in charity, obliged to pretend his actions and stated intentions are somehow less evil than they are, or to make believe that whatever good Michael might do in other spheres of his life somehow makes up for or negates the evil he is inflicting on Terri. That is, it would be silly for me to say, "Michael is nice to the child he had by his girlfriend, so he must be a decent guy, and he must have a point in wanting Terri dead." It is not charity to ignore or make light of evil actions or designs, especially when they involve the life of an innocent person.

Which brings me to my point. After reading today's article "The Guardian", by Wesley J. Smith, I realize now what it is about Michael's actions and statements that I find so reprehensible: It is that Michael is trying to have it both ways. He is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

The Schindlers have not made their allegations of abuse (which are founded on medical evidence), or disputed Michael's claim to be acting upon Terri's wishes out of some desire to hurt him. They have not challenged his self-touted image as the caring husband because they have some ill-will toward him. They're doing so, and I have taken up their cause, because his claims and image are false.

It was Michael who went to the court and, in effect, said, "my wife told me she didn't want to live like this, so please let me kill her." It was Michael who claimed that he was acting out of his love towards Terri. It was Michael who went on Larry King Live and tried to convince us that he was the caring and long-suffering husband.

And, as the Schindlers told me last week, they find his claims to be false and his pose as the loving husband to be unbelievable. I was convinced of that by what the Schindlers told me, what I read in court documents and medical testimony, and by Michael's own performance on Larry King.

The Schindlers told me that the first court-appointed guardian ad litem, Richard Pearse, found Michael to be incredible. Now, as Smith's article makes clear, Pearse's report and recommendations substantially support Bob & Mary Schindlers' statements to me:

Bob & Mary told me that Michael withheld treatment from Terri for an infection. The treatment consisted of a routine course of antibiotics. Mr. Pearse found that "Early in 1994, for example, he refused to consent to treat an infection from which the ward was then suffering and ordered that she not be resuscitated in the event of cardiac arrest. "

Furthermore, the Schindlers, in their account of the initial dispute that caused their estrangement, said that it became clear to them at that point that Michael didn't intend to follow through on his promises to seek rehabilitation for Terri. Mr. Pearse saw it the same way. Smith wrote:
Pearse confirmed the charge by the Schindlers that once the medical malpractice money was in the bank, Schiavo began to refuse medical treatment for Terri, writing:

After February 1993, Mr. Schiavo's attitude concerning treatment for the ward apparently changed.

And there were signs that that attitude had changed even earlier, as Mr. Pearse reported that Michael "admitted to the guardian ad litem that he had at least "two romantic involvements" after Terri's collapse. " Pearse concluded:
"It is apparent to me," Pearse wrote the court, "that he has reached a point that he has no hope of the ward's recovery and wants to get on with his own life." Smith adds: To say the least. At the time of Pearse's investigation, Schiavo was already living with the woman who would become the mother of his children.

Michael has proclaimed repeatedly his love for Terri. But men who love their wives stick by them, even when they are sick, disabled, or debilitated. Men who love their wives seek to have them treated if they are sick or disabled. They don't deny treatment in spite of doctor's urgings. And if love isn't sufficient or it is crushed under the weight of grief or despair, then duty and honor would urge any decent man to stay the course. As Mary Schindler once said to me, "if Michael loves her so much he could start by keeping his vows to her."

Michael is trying to have it both ways: he is seeks to exercise the prerogatives of a husband, when in fact he has not lived up to the responsibilities of a husband. He seeks the moral standing that a husband would have vis-a-vis his wife, but he has constructively not lived as Terri's husband since before he began his efforts to bring about her death.

When Michael took his vows to Terri, he committed himself to bear the burdens of marriage as well as enjoy its benefits. If he won't fulfill the one, he has no moral basis on which to enjoy the other. He can't have it both ways.

Mr. Pearse, as I wrote in my interview with the Schindlers last week, found that Michael's claim that Terri wouldn't want to live in her condition wasn't credible, saying:
his credibility is necessarily adversely affected by the obvious financial benefit to him of being the ward's sole heir at law in the event of her death while still married to him. Her death also permits him to get on with his own life.

The portrait of Michael that emerges from the Pearse report could hardly be at greater variance from his own representations. Upon scrutiny, his claims crumble into dust. He wants to be trusted as a loving husband, but we see a man who threw aside his marriage vows a long time ago. He wants us to believe that he has her best interests at heart, but he refused her routine treatment for illnesses having nothing to do with her primary disability. He wants us to believe that he is trying to live up to a promise he made to Terri, but he is revealed to have broken promises that he made repeatedly before he got the money in his hands.

He can't have it both ways.