I missed this story when Politico published it in January — I tend to avoid what Charles Pierce calls Tiger Beat on the Potomac. For many of us who remember the dark period after the second Bush inaugural, his brother’s meddling in the Terri Schiavo case represented the nadir of movement conservatism. Michael Kruse’s splendid reporting accentuates the gruesomeness of the facts as I remembered them:
Michael Schiavo and the mother of his two kids got letters addressed to their “Illegitimate Bastard Children” talking about how sometimes kids disappear.
Up in Washington, Congress debated the case of Terri Schiavo, searching for possible methods of federal intervention—with Frist and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, both of whom now say they don’t want to talk about it, vowing to work together through the weekend of Palm Sunday if necessary. A memo that came from Martinez’s office called it “a great political issue” for Republicans. Frist, a surgeon from Tennessee, said on the Senate floor that Schiavo didn’t seem to him to be in a vegetative state, based on his viewing of the Schindlers’ video snippets. Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania called the removal of the feeding tube “a sentence that would not be placed on the worst criminal.” Majority Leader Tom DeLay led the way in the House. Santorum and Frist did in the Senate. Few members of Congress spoke against it. South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was one. “There is no room for the federal government in this most personal of private angst-ridden family members,” she said. Republican John Warner from Virginia was the only senator to speak against it. Hillary Clinton from New York didn’t. Neither did Barack Obama from Illinois. A bill emerged from the Senate after midnight on March 21 that would let the Schindlers ask the federal courts to take another look at the decision made by the state courts.
And what did the medical examiners learn during the autopsy?
In June, the medical examiner released Terri Schiavo’s autopsy, which confirmed what the judges had ruled for years based on the testimony from doctors concerning her prognosis. Her limbs had atrophied, and her hands had clenched into claws, and her brain had started to disappear. It weighed barely more than a pound and a third, less than half the size it would have been under normal circumstances. “No remaining discernible neurons,” the autopsy said. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t feel, not even pain. Forty-one years after her birth, 15 years after her collapse, Terri Schiavo was literally a shell of who she had been.
So, yeah, please remember this.