Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Lesson of the Terri Schaivo Case

In seemingly every news story I see, hear, or read, the reporter attempts to see what lesson we can learn from the ordeal of Terri Schaivo. It always seems to boil down to living wills or advanced directives. I see a far more worthwhile lesson in the case, though.

It has been painful to watch the Terri Schaivo’s parents, the Schindlers, appeal to court after court in the hope that one will act to save their daughter. Time after time, their pleas have been rebuffed. Why? Because the courts are acting in accordance with the law, which views Michael Schaivo as Terri’s guardian. The parents are not in a legal position to override Mr. Schaivo’s decision, they say.

To many people, this is an outrage, since they see in Michael Schaivo a man who feels burdened by a disabled wife, while they see in the parents the devoted love for a stricken daughter. To the people who see things this way, the rightness of it is obvious. The parents’ wishes should be fulfilled. While I think that the parents are in the right on this one, I’m not outraged by the actions of the courts.

Why not? I know that judges owe their allegiance to the law, not morality. If a judge makes a legally correct ruling, he has done his duty. The problem with the law is that it is a crude instrument. Asking the law to make a moral decision akin to asking a surgeon to suture a small wound with a knitting needle. It will be messy. Unfortunately, we request just that from the law far too often.

How many time do we here that “there oughta be a law” or “the government should do something about this”? Gay marriage, steroids in baseball, indecency on cable. These are all issues where I heard about someone asking for government action. When? Not in the last week, not in the last month, but in the last 12 hours since I woke up this morning.

We are a society where the law seems to be considered divine. The problem is that it is anything but. The Schaivo case exemplifies this as well as any in recent memory. I just hope that when we think of Terri Schaivo that we remember that the law is imperfect and that we should pause to think the next time someone says “there oughta be a law.”

TOPIC: Politics