Who Will Remember Terri?
Disabled Americans aren't eager to embrace the "right to die."

The Wall Street Journal, Friday, April 1, 2005

What lasting effect will the Terri Schiavo saga have on American politics? Probably not much. However intense the emotions of the past two weeks, for most voters they're sure to prove fleeting. But there's one important exception: disabled Americans. Some of the most impassioned arguments against killing Terri Schiavo came from profoundly handicapped people:

• Mary Johnson, left-leaning editor of Ragged Edge magazine: "There isn't a single disability rights activist I've heard from . . . who isn't afraid that this will make liberals hate them even more than they now do."

• Joe Ford, a Harvard undergraduate with severe cerebral palsy: "Like many others with disabilities, I believe that the American public, to one degree or another, holds that disabled people are better off dead. To put it in a simpler way, many Americans are bigots. A close examination of the facts of the Schiavo case reveals not a case of difficult decisions but a basic test of this country's decency."

• Eleanor Smith, a self-described liberal agnostic lesbian, whose childhood bout with polio left her confined to a wheelchair: "At this point I would rather have a right-wing Christian decide my fate than an ACLU member." Ms. Smith protested last week outside the hospice where Mrs. Schiavo lay dehydrating and starving.

Surveys of disabled Americans suggest a strong GOP tilt. According to the National Organization on Disability, Al Gore outpolled George W. Bush among disabled Americans, 56% to 38%, but four years later Mr. Bush beat John Kerry, 52.5% to 46%--a 24.5-point shift. As late as August, Mr. Kerry had a 10-point lead, which vanished by September, coinciding with the Florida Supreme Court's striking down "Terri's law."

Polls last month suggested that most Americans favored Mrs. Schiavo's death. It was natural for an able-bodied person to think: I wouldn't want to live like that. But someone who is disabled and abjectly dependent on others was more apt to be chilled by the talk of her "poor quality of life" and to think: I wouldn't want to be killed like that.

Liberalism once championed the interests of society's most vulnerable members. Today it increasingly champions their "right to die." No one should be surprised if this affects their decisions as they exercise their right to vote.

Next article: Cold Warriors Get Their Due (Australian, 4/6/05)

Previous article: Hillary's Secret Weapon (2/25/05)

Go to main list