Thursday, March 24, 2005

Body Double: Terri Schiavo, Sun Hudson and the "Culture of Life"

From my column in the Moscow Times, March 25

Far from the hurly-burly in Florida, where the Bush brothers and their shameless minions have sought to milk maximum "political capital" from the ravaged body of a brain-dead woman, the true moral values of these gilded hypocrites were on stark display last week in a quiet corner of the Bushes' adopted homeland: Texas.

This week, George W. Bush melodramatically cut short one of his innumerable vacations and flew back to Washington to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, when a Florida court granted her husband's request to cut off her life support after 15 years in a vegetative state. But days before, even as Bush was supporting his brother, Florida governor Jeb, and congressional Republicans in "defending the culture of life" in the Schiavo case, doctors in Houston were pulling the breathing tube from the throat of an ailing infant. The boy suffocated within seconds, legally killed – against the wishes of his anguished mother – in accordance with a draconian law signed as a "cost-saving" measure by the state's former governor: George W. Bush.

There were no frenzied protests, no camera-friendly prayer vigils, no preening politicians at Texas Children's Hospital when five-month-old Sun Hudson took his last breath. There was only his mother, Wanda, holding him in her arms as he died, the Houston Chronicle reports. Sun suffered from an extreme form of dwarfism: incurable, usually fatal. Early on, doctors recommended cutting off the breathing tube that kept his undersized lungs working. He was inert, they said, unresponsive, essentially comatose.

Wanda Hudson disagreed. "I talked to him," she said, "he was conscious," moving, looking around, he responded to her. Although the odds were long, she wanted to give him more time to develop, not give up on him after just a few months. Wishful thinking, a despairing parent's denial? Perhaps. But the law signed by Bush in 1999 took the decision out of her hands and gave it to hospital bureaucrats, allowing them to shut down a patient's life support – even against the wishes of the patient's family or guardian – if the medical brass decide treatment is "nonbeneficial," the Chronicle notes.

Indeed, why throw away good money pumping air down the gullet of some defective infant, just to mollify his nobody of a mother? For unlike Terri Schiavo – a nice middle-class white woman, a political marketer's dream – Wanda Hudson was just another worthless black woman living in poverty, unable to afford any pre-natal care at all. Who would waste a dime on trash like that? It's much more beneficial to funnel that cash into the coffers of your political patrons – like George and Jeb, now wallowing happily in the swamp of campaign grease they get from giant medical corporations. In return, they push government policies designed to keep Big Medicine's profits sky-high while gutting public obligations to provide health care for the hoi polloi.

So the hospital invoked the Bush Law on Sun Hudson. Just as in Florida, a local judge ruled that life-support systems must be removed, and the patient allowed to die a natural death. But strangely enough, the Texas judge was not reviled in the halls of Congress as a would-be murder, as was the Florida jurist– even though the latter was carrying out the wishes of Terri Schiavo's husband, her legal guardian, while the Bush Law used state power to override a mother's choice. Nor was the Texas judge subjected to death threats like the ones the Florida judge received from Bush's "armies of compassion."

No, Sun's mother stood alone. Those compassionate armies and congressional kibitzers failed to materialize on her behalf. George W. Bush – usually so eager to wade in a with a few scripted words of pursed-lipped piety about "family values" and "defending life" – kept his big mouth shut. The hospital would not allow the media to see Sun or interview Wanda Jackson – again, against her wishes. "I wanted y'all to see him for yourselves," she told the press after Sun's death. But so what? When nobodies die, nobody cares.

Why the stark contrast between the two cases? Simple: there was no political hay to be made from Sun Hudson's plight. Spotlighting his situation might reflect badly on the Dear Leader – and on the religious extremists now banking millions in contributions from their slick campaign to "save" Terri Schiavo. For it turns out that the spearhead of Bush's Christian army in Florida, the "Right to Life" organization, actually helped Bush craft the 1999 law that took Sun Hudson's life, the Chronicle reports. The family-bashing measure was drawn up in backroom sessions between the Right-to-Lifers, Bush staffers and Big Medicine. It seems the "culture of life" ends where power politics and corporate money begin.

Bush doesn't care if Terri Schiavo lives or dies. Her body – like the bodies of the 100,000 Iraqis he has killed, like the bodies of the American soldiers being chewed up every day in his Babylonian conquest, like the bodies of the poor and working people whom he is methodically and remorselessly cutting off from medical care, financial protection against catastrophic illness and legal redress against corporate predators – is just a means to an end, the only end Bush cares about: increasing the power and wealth of his own rapacious circle of privileged elites.

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – he will not do to serve this end. He'll wage war on false pretenses, he'll pervert the democratic process, he'll spit on the Constitution – and he'll exploit the private suffering of families facing hideous dilemmas of life and death. There is no honor, no morality, no values in his "culture."