Note: These comments are edited from an email exchange with several theologians.

by Rod D. Martin
March 29, 2005

I told a friend at some length today that I am getting very sick of “Reformed” people (if we may call them by such an increasingly inappropriate name) who never bother to show the sort of passion against those fighting against them that they reserve for those fighting alongside them. Jeb Bush, for instance, has been personally involved in fighting the Schiavo case — by every means at his disposal — for years: years, I might add, before the average Reformed loudmouth ever heard Terri Schiavo’s name. A few days ago, NewsMax was hailing Jeb as the “unsung hero” of this whole thing.

Within hours, “our” gang was decrying him as a murderer. I daresay, if Michael Peroutka (“presidential candidate” for the Constitution Party) wants Jeb to go to jail so badly for Terri Schiavo’s sake, he ought to be willing to prove it by kidnapping her himself and standing personally in defiance of that same court order. He won’t, because he’s a big-mouthed coward. I would be very pleased to see him — or anyone else asking Jeb to go to jail over this — prove me wrong. There are enough of these folks to rush and overpower local law enforcement, believe me. And they have just as much chance as Jeb Bush of making it stick.

Here’s the crux of the matter:

Basically everyone from Pat Robertson to Jay Sekulow to Tom DeLay to the Pope has agreed there’s a right to die (or as the Roman Catholic church has put it, there’s no duty to needlessly prolong a life beyond some unreasonable point). That’s just not at issue. Moreover, Judge Greer is not “killing” Terri Schiavo per se. He is certainly acting unconstitutionally in a number of respects (including vacating the U.S. House’s subpoena and overruling the authority of DCF to take custody), but the result (her death) is not strictly the issue even there: if she had a living will, no one would know her name and she’d have died fifteen years ago. The issue is actually a whole lot simpler than that:

Judge Greer acted wrongly by permitting Michael Schiavo to continue to represent Terri’s interests once it became clear that he had abandoned his marriage vows, taken up residence with another women, had children with her, and on top of all that, had a financial interest in Terri’s death.

That last bit only comes into play after the others; combined with them, it’s a very big deal. And this is really the heart of the matter. All the other fact issues in the case are actually best decided by the judicial process: our system has no other means by which to decide them, and however much Judge Greer’s court and the several others involved have overreached, deciding issues of fact is indeed the proper function of courts, and we would be fools to follow the Janet Reno / Elian Gonzalez route into executive branch tyranny just because we don’t like the way this court did its job. (Moreover, had the federal courts given this case the de novo review required of them by the federal law Congressional Republicans and President Bush hurriedly passed, this issue almost certainly would have been decided in the family’s favor, with the caveat that the federal district judge who drew the case was a Clinton appointee, so it might have had to go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to get the proper result.)

But the real problem — the problem we must solve for the sakes of the thousands of other people in cases like this going on all the time — is the restoration of a Biblical idea of family to our family law. It is legitimate for the court to decide which family members get to say what Terri wants. But it is downright immoral for it to decide on such absurd grounds and in favor of someone whose entire life puts him at odds with Terri’s best interests. And the Biblical concept of covenant (and covenant breaking) would have solved this problem, for Judge Greer and everyone else, had it just been applied. Our law once reflected this. It can — and must — again.

If you want to gripe at Republicans, our excommunicated friend Randall Terry’s personal jihad against Jeb Bush — who, once again, has been fighting for Terri Schiavo for years and has been overruled by the Florida Supreme Court again and again — is a non-starter. You might make some headway against Tom DeLay, who ought to enforce his subpoena of Mrs. Schiavo and thus afford her protection (and incidentally, hold Judge Greer in contempt of Congress). But how much time that would buy is questionable, and as Jay Sekulow rightly pointed out, the end result of any of these efforts would just be that the courts would ultimately persuade some policeman to turn her back over, and she would go through this whole death-by-starvation thing yet again.

But if you want to actually get something done, this is our time to reform the disaster which passes for modern family law. We have a roused activist base that wants to do something, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what I just told you. Our family law is a disgrace. Some very basic reforms would fix it. And though it won’t save Terri Schiavo, it will save thousands of others just like her, and it could be the beginning of a broader legal reformation that has long been desperately needed.

Take your pick. Complain at people who’ve done the best they believe they can, or actually use this to accomplish lasting reform. We’ll see what our “Reformed” friends do soon enough.

Sad to say, I’m glad we needn’t count on them.