Jesse Jackson's involvement leads me to the larger issues involved in this case -- and to personal connections
Showing that the case of Terri Schindler (I no longer want to identify her with the surname of her murderer) is one that crosses ideological boundaries, Jesse Jackson appeared in a press conference beside the Schindler family and spoke more sense than I have heard during this whole crisis.
In just a few words (before he was cut off by the President's news conference touting his successes in Iraq), he laid out the crux of this tragic and horrifying injustice. I was sorry not to be able to hear his comments in their entirety.
To paraphrase him -- he said that on many occasions during his ministry he had been called to the bedside of a dying cancer patient who was in unbearable pain, even with demerol. He described instances where the machines that were being used to sustain vital functions of breathing and heartbeat were removed, and the person whose vital signs were already dimming even on the machines, was allowed to slip away peacefully.
He said that the Terri Schindler case was entirely different. He said that despite 12 days in which her body has been deprived of food and water, her vital signs are still good. He said that she is plain and simply being starved and dehydrated to death -- and that there was simply no reason for this and that this was wrong and profoundly immoral.
He said that this was a profound moral and ethical issue of our time, and we pray for God's miracle, and that God has provided them before. He further said that he had been in touch with the governor's office and the Florida legislature, and was urging legislators to come up with a creative solution to the stark reality that a woman was being starved and dehydrated to death.
He also stated that he talked with Michael Schiavo and asked that he be allowed to visit with Terri and pray with her -- and he was told -- "I don't think so."
So -- Jesse Jackson shows himself to be true to his civil rights roots. Why cannot other democrats and liberals see that this is a case of civil rights? Jackson correctly stated that his is a profound case, not only for the future of our country, but for the world, because it defines a new realm of killing people who are simply disabled or unwanted or inconvenient and leads us down the slippery slope towards genocide.
Let's make this plain again. This is not an end of life issue. Terri Schiavo is not terminally ill -- she is alive and healthy -- or was, until the court ordered her food and water cut off. Terri has lived with only food and water being provided for 15 years -- just like you and me. Her quality of life and cognitive functions may not be perfect -- they may not be to everyone's liking or taste -- they may not be what one would wish for one's self. But there is no reason that she should be deliberately starved and dehydrated to death with no reason except her husband's statement that these are her wishes, and with no documentary proof, and to the contrary of all those closest to her.
And for those who say that such a death is beautiful, or even euphoric, this is obscene and absolutely beyond bizarre. In that case, I suppose the looks on all those Holocaust survivors faces was truly one of euphoria. Why should we not welcome then, the death by starvation of millions in Africa? Why should I and others be outraged at the deliberate death by starvation of 7 million Ukrainians during the Holodomor, as Ukrainians call it - the artificially created famine of 1933?
My parents as children, both lived through that nightmare. And the people they witnessed dying every day from hunger were not euphoric -- and they were not beautiful.
Their limbs and abdomens were grotesquely swollen with edema. Corpses littered the streets and were picked up on a daily basis and loaded onto stacks on carts that made their ghoulish rounds. Children dropped dead in school on a daily basis. One classmate of my mother's simply lurched forward one day, his head hit the desk with a sickening thud, and he died. And he wasn't the only one. Even in the last stages of agony, he was in school, trying to carry on. He was 13 years old, as was my mother.
My parents lived in towns, where at least there were meager amounts of food to be had. My mother's father had a government job, so he received a small allotment of food. My mother's mother, who in my mind was a complete saint, took in all her relatives from the countryside, where there was literally nothing to eat, and she shared the family's meager rations with them all as they lay about the floors of their small apartment, too weak to get up. There is much my mother will never share with me, because the memories are so painful.
In the countryside the horrors were even more unbelievable. People lost their minds from the gnawing hunger and the lack of nutrients. They ate bark off trees, they ate grass and leaves. They resorted in many instances to cannibalism. Newly dead corpses were dug up and cooked and consumed.
If anyone wonders why this case has consumed my attention over these past weeks, let them wonder no longer. My family has seen this all before -- and more. And we know the dangers that lie in store for us if these actions of the courts are not halted. We know the dangers that lie ahead if politicians do not act, and simply move on to the next issue.
We cannot move on. There is no higher principle on this earth than life and liberty. And once the government arrogates to itself the right to put to death innocent people, without due process of law, without representation in the courts, without any fair hearing, then we are set upon this path. Once we encode in law the rights of spouses to kill their disabled spouses on simply their word that once, long ago, while watching a movie, their spouse uttered the words that they wouldn't want to live that way, then we are on our way to becoming a country I no longer understand. Who will be next? Who will be next considered inconvenient? Whose life will be considered not worth living next -- the mentally retarded -- the physically handicapped -- those who are too big a drain on the public purse? There are no end of legal classifications we can put people in. This is not the country I thought I knew.
I've tried to keep these personal facts out of this discussion -- but I no longer can.
When I came to this country as a small child, I had the strange but wonderful idea that once I stepped foot on American soil, I would be forever safe. Because in my mind, America was immune from all the dangers that my family had faced in Europe. Bombs never fell on America, like they did in Ukraine and Germany. People didn't come for you in the middle of the night, like they did on those other places. Freedom and justice for all existed in this magical world where evil was forbidden to enter.
It was a palpable feeling I had -- that I was safe -- at last.
My childhood in Australia had been filled with endless stories of real nightmares -- the tales oft told and shared with friends as they gathered at the dinner table, of events of not so long ago. Of arrests, imprisonments, of relatives taken and never seen again, of police interrogating children, because someone had informed that they wrote something in their personal diary about the famine. Of the young boy who was arrested for this crime and sent to a labor camp -- my mother's classmate. Of how she and her friend were called out of class and interrogated about what they knew about their friend -- and how they were kept at the police station until late at night. Of the tearful relief with which her parents met her, they knowing full well the fate she had just barely escaped.
I heard of executions -- of how the Germans hung people in the strees of their town -- and left the corpses hanging as an example to the townspeople to not resist. I heard of how a local Jewish woman and her son were sheltered from the view of the Germans. I heard of how one Jewish mother, upon hearing that the Germans were coming, smothered her children and then killed herself in her despair. I heard of how my aunt, a girl of 18, like so many others, was seized by the Germans on the streets one day while she was in town, and how she was shipped to a slave labor camp in Germany. Of how she returned to her homeland after the war, and was sentenced to 10 years hard labor in Kazakhstan for her "crime" of having been taken captive and having seen the west.
I heard of how my grandfather was arrested on trumped up charges and sent to a forced labor camp in Siberia for 15 years hard labor. I heard how the Germans executed every male between the ages of 12 and up on one street in my parent's town, because somewhere a partisan had shot a German. One woman came staggering and screaming into my parent's house, hysterically recounting how they took her 12 year old son, her husband and her grandfather out into the street and shot them all.
I heard so much horror -- I can scarcely even begin to recount it all.
So when I came to America I believed that such things could never happen here. That finally I had reached a safe haven.
But now -- I'm not so sure. And I'm afraid.
The politicians would like us to move on. But if we move on, my friends -- America will no longer be America.