Monday, March 21, 2005

James Taranto Hits a Home Run on Terri Schiavo Case

James Taranto, author of's Best of the Web, hits a home run in today's column with his analysis of the Terri Schiavo case (first item):

Congress has granted Terri Schiavo a reprieve. In an extraordinary midnight session, the House voted 203-58 to approve a bill to restore her feeding tube--removed last week by order of a Florida judge--and grant the federal courts jurisdiction over her case. The Senate had earlier approved the measure on a voice vote, but some Democrats obstructed the effort to pass it the same way in the House, forcing Republicans to assemble a quorum for a roll-call vote. President Bush, up well past his bedtime, signed the bill into law just before 1:30 a.m.

Supporters of Michael Schiavo's effort to end his wife's life have asked how conservatives, who claim to believe in the sanctity of marriage, can fail to respect his husbandly authority. The most obvious answer is that a man's authority as a husband does not supersede his wife's rights as a human being--a principle we never thought we'd see liberals question.

But why do those of us who aren't right-to-life absolutists side with Mrs. Schiavo's parents, who want to keep her alive, over her husband, who wants her dead? It's a fair question, and it raises another one: What kind of husband is Michael Schiavo?

According to news reports, Mr. Schiavo lives with a woman named Jodi Centonze, and they have two children together. Surely any court would consider this prima facie evidence of adultery. And this is no mere fling; a sympathetic 2003 profile in the Orlando Sentinel described Centonze as Mr. Schiavo's "fiancée." Mr. Schiavo, in other words, has virtually remarried. Short of outright bigamy, his relationship with Centonze is as thoroughgoing a violation of his marriage vows as it is possible to imagine.

The point here is not to castigate Mr. Schiavo for behaving badly. It would require a heroic degree of self-sacrifice for a man to forgo love and sex in order to remain faithful to an incapacitated wife, and it would be unreasonable to hold an ordinary man to a heroic standard.

But it is equally unreasonable to let Mr. Schiavo have it both ways. If he wishes to assert his marital authority to do his wife in, the least society can expect in return is that he refrain from making a mockery of his marital obligations. The grimmest irony in this tragic case is that those who want Terri Schiavo dead are resting their argument on the fiction that her marriage is still alive.

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