ALMOST lost in the emotion of the Florida case involving a brain-damaged woman is the consistent position of the courts to preserve and protect the constitutional integrity of our government. The U.S. Supreme court was the most recent panel to weigh in on the sad saga of Terri Schiavo. It refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that got it right by declaring unconstitutional Florida's legislative gymnastics to personally affect one life and death.
In other words, the democratic system with three independent and co-equal branches of government worked the way it's supposed to and not how Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and allies hoped it would to their political advantage. Mrs. Schiavo's plight-the woman has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years - is a private family affair that has been shamelessly exploited in the public arena.
But fortunately, when both the legislative and executive branch of Florida conspired to legally wrest power from Mrs. Schiavo's husband and guardian acting on her behalf, the judicial branch properly balked at the blatant abuse of authority. When the Florida Legislature rushed legislation through that empowered the governor to intervene directly in the ongoing medical treatment of Mrs. Schiavo, constitutional experts protested the action as illegal and politically motivated.
The tailor-made "Terri's Law" allowed Governor Bush to countermand a court decision that ordered a feeding tube removed from the patient at the request of her husband. Days later the governor had it re-inserted. The Florida Supreme Court said the law that allowed him to intervene was unconstitutional. With his conservative base in mind, Mr. Bush appealed unsuccessfully to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yet nature is still blunted from taking its course with the now 41-year-old woman, afflicted with massive atrophy of the brain, who lives in a Florida nursing home. Legal challenges in two Florida courts could mean that despite the high court's action the feeding tube keeping Mrs. Schiavo's body alive will not be removed soon.
The unfortunate fact is the Schiavo case has become the centerpiece in a raging debate between right-to-die and right-to-life combatants who have taken the last shred of dignity from a wife and daughter reduced to dying by degree.
The world should never have been privy to the wrenching disagreement between Michael Schiavo and his in-laws over when and how to handle his wife's end-of-life needs.
But the tragedy has been blown into an international cause clbre with legal impediments that prevent the poor woman from resting in peace.