March 23, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

The Terri Schiavo case sparked some of the most interesting discussions I've seen in the blogosphere since before the three-year-nightmare that was the 2004 General Election. The case itself interests me less than the ethical and moral dilemmas it raises, which is fortuitous for me in that I can blog about it without feeling like I've tracked the dogshit of politics onto my Inner Sanctum.

Divorce yourself from the Schiavo case for a moment, and let me ask you this question: who is your legal guardian? Why is that person your legal guardian? If you are a married individual, your spouse is your default. If you are unmarried, your lot falls with your next of kin unless otherwise specified, as I understand it.

Think about that for a second - your legal guardian, your decisionmaker, effectively your owner in the event of your incapacity. Do you want your parents in this role? Your wife? Your sister, your brother, your uncle, who? Who knows you best? Who's going to take better care of you if you can't care for yourself - your husband, or your mother? Who do you trust more, and which is "just" your default?

When I married my husband, I did so under the laws of the United States and the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. That being the case, my husband and I are, legally and ecumenically, one flesh. One flesh. When I said "I do", I promised to cleave unto him until death - by all the laws of history and tradition I officially forsook my father's (and mother's) house forever, and became, quite literally, a part of him. By the laws of this country, I officially placed him in charge of my affairs in the event I expire, and vice-versa. Unless I were to divorce Mister MacFarland, this remains the case.

Say a bus hits me today, on the way to pick up a pack of Depends at the grocery. Say it reduces me to a state in which I can no longer care for myself, reliably evince awareness, speak, or communicate in any fashion. Mister MacFarland, as my guardian, would assume total responsibility for my care. That's the law. In the event I required outside intervention - breathing devices, feeding tubes, and the like - Mac would make all those decisions, up to and including the one to let me live or let me die, if it came to that.

After all, we're one flesh. We're married, a thing which is, I hear over and over, from states and from my President and from Congress and from various advocacy groups, sacred. After all, that's why we can't let "them gays" do it, right? Or am I missing something?

Remember, now, we're not talking about the Schiavo case. We're talking about me, and Mister MacFarland.

So, my mother - for whom nothing is ever Enough - comes to see me one day and I have stinky breath. "Mac!", she hollers, "you're not taking care of my little girl!" And say she had a hangnail that day, or Mac looked at her crooked. "You're a loser, you've always been a loser, you suck, I hate you, blah, blah, blah. I'm taking Queenie home where her Daddy and I can love on her and care for her properly!"

Does my mother have the right to interfere? Should she have the right? Should she and Daddy be able to pack me up and take me home with them, leaving Mac - with whom I am one flesh - high, dry, and vegetable-less? Should my mom be able to decide, "well, he's always been an asshole, and he doesn't love her, and she needs to come home?"

Again, we're not talking about the Schindlers and the Schiavos. We're talking about me. Does my mother have the right to pass judgment on my husband's standard of care, taking me away from him forever? And say mother really got on her High Horse, and took the matter to court. Say this hypothetical court finds that the quality of my care is more than adequate and that Mac gets to keep tending the 'tater patch that is my brain and body. What then? Does Mother give up?

Not my mother...

So she pursues it. And, bizarrely, succeeds in getting through to a Very High Court Indeed. And say, just for the purposes of hypothesis, that Washington is in right-wing mode at the moment, and the Culture of Life wins. Mom gets to take me home and brush my teeth.

What does this decision mean to your marriage? What if your mom isn't as nice as mine? What if YOUR mom wants to have your feeding tube pulled after you get hit by a bus on the way to buy some Depends so she can kill you off so you can't tell the police that she is the Unabomber, and your wife knows that you wouldn't want to die that way? What if your mom sues, in 2010, and Washington is in a left-wing frenzy when she gets to A Very High Court Indeed, and the "Culture of Life" has been replaced by another culture altogether?

Well, then there's a previous, precedent-setting decision for them to look at, isn't there?

The point is that I think we're screwing with a very dangerous matter in the Schiavo case, one beyond the "right to life", and a precedent set could easily be a judicial slippery slope on which the words "one flesh" no longer have any meaning. It really doesn't matter if Mac, in the situation described above, is an asshole or not. As long as he's meeting legal standards of care, it doesn't matter if he's catting around with all and sundry. It doesn't fucking matter if he spends all my money on Lagavulin, which he might. We're one fucking flesh, dammit, and if I had a problem with all of that, I shouldn't have married him in the first place. When I said "I do," I consented to all of it, sex, lies, and videotape.

In a Christian marriage ceremony - still the most popular way for people to marry, despite what Mainstream Media would have you believe - I believe the words are "What God hath joined, let no man put asunder." By agreeing to marry and saying "I do,", every couple is signaling their tacit agreement to be sealed together in a bond the law isn't allowed to fuck around with (see Fifth Amendment), simultaneously legally signing custodial rights over to each other. Does the sacrament of marriage mean so little, then, that we'd let this modern-day notion of a "Culture of Life" come between a bond that God himself is supposed to have sealed? Is Congress above that Law?

Okay, now we're talking about the Schiavo case. Culture of Life, or Sanctity of Marriage? Which do you pick? Because you can't have it both ways, you know.

I would really love to hear your ideas on this, but please don't come to me trying to tell me that Mike Schiavo is a shithead, etc. It doesn't matter in this discussion - one flesh, or thou shalt not kill?

Update: Yes, I also understand that if my spouse, my one-flesh, fails to meet the minimum standard of care in the scenario described above, a court may very well place me in the care of someone else. That really isn't germane to the discussion, now is it? Remember - we've gone meta here - we're not just talking about the Schiavos.

Update Redux: NO - I will not argue with you via -email regarding Theresa Schiavo's standard of care, current medical condition, or any Ancient Chinese Secret that might cure her! I don't know if she's had enough brain scans or not! I don't know if there's a chance for her to recover, dammit...and neither do you! Are you a neurosurgeon specializing in recovery from massive brain injury? Have you personally seen and examined Theresa Schiavo? Are you somehow otherwise involved in her care as a licensed practitioner of some sort? No? Then cut it the fuck out with the e-mail already. I do know that many people far more qualified than either you or I provided medical information to the courts, in whom I have faith enough to believe them capable of adjudicating a dispute of this type. If the court rules to let her die, so be it. If the court rules to let her live, that's their province as well, and you and I have to live with either decision. In short, I fart in your general direction.

Trust me, folks. Sending me a hysterical e-mail, calling me part of the Culture of Evil, and not even having the courage to use a real reply-to address is not the way to foster a dialogue with me. All it will foster is me hollering at you online.

And this is my final update, I promise: I forgot to mention, in writing the above, that I do believe it is horrible to let Terri Schiavo starve to death. It's a miserable, cruel end that I would only wish on a very few, very evil people - Osama bin Ladin comes to mind. Rachel Lucas is right - we treat our dogs better. The fact that the only exit legally allowed to her is starvation is a whole 'nother "flaw" in the system entirely.

Posted by Queenie at March 23, 2005 10:46 AM

hon, I think you hit all the points on this debacle. Call it America, the Republicans or whoever. But the double standards are being worked here because wasn’t it just a few months that Bush and his pals were all over the so-called sanctity of marriage and that if gay’s married that so called sanctity wouldn’t be upheld. And if that were so damn important as they insisted it was, then none of this shit betwixt the husband and her family would have ever grown the legs it has now. It would be his decision as her husband to make that call.

Posted by: Greg at March 23, 2005 11:25 AM

I don't want the "Culture of Life" telling anyone in my family what's best for me.

I choose one flesh because if I didn't trust my husband with my life (or death) then I shouldn't have married him.

Excellent -- EXCELLENT -- piece, Ms. Q.

Posted by: Margi at March 23, 2005 11:40 AM

Ya hit the nail right on the head, sista. Ya can't have it both ways. Unfortunately, that's what politicians are best at...they talk outa both sides of their mouth so they CAN have it both ways.

Posted by: Pammy at March 23, 2005 11:42 AM

I do believe that was the most succinctly stated position on this whole debacle that I have read to date. Beautiful! In answer to your question, I choose to be one flesh; however, I don't really agree that allowing a civil (note that I specified civil, not religious, not Christian) marriage ceremony between two gay people violates the sanctity of marriage. I have always felt that the "culture of life" crowd were hypocritical anyway--how can you say it's wrong to cease life support on one side, and support the death penalty on the other?

Posted by: Susan at March 23, 2005 01:06 PM

Perfection, Queenie.

Posted by: zonker at March 23, 2005 02:32 PM

Big Guy is my last stop and I am his, one flesh, final decision for either of us. What we decide for each other will be between us, a bond that goes on for over 33 years now. Even if it were just one year, it still would have been his or my decision for the other. That's the way marriage works.

Queenie, what a wonderful essay.

Posted by: BeeBee at March 23, 2005 04:31 PM

Well put.

This is bigger than a single life. This is about whether our government has the right to micromanage our individual lives. So far, it seems, the courts say they do not. I just wish the houses of Congress and the occupant on Pennsylvania Ave understood that, too.

Posted by: The Other Mike S at March 23, 2005 05:00 PM

this is the first time I've felt compelled to write after finding this blog via Acidman.

I am not married, have never been married, and I might yet not ever be married. That being the case, I agree with the "one flesh" position you post.

BUT, I must take issue with the false dichotomy you've presented, i.e. one flesh vs. Thou shall not kill. I have never seen the Sixth Commandment as saying "Thou shall not kill". What it DOES say is "Thou shall not MURDER". There IS an important distinction between the two meanings.

I'm not going to go on with the legal definition of murder, because I do believe *maybe naively* that people can understand there are times when killing is acceptable (e.g. killing livestock for food, killing in defense of one's own life when threatended to such point, or in times of declared war), but murder is not acceptable (when the attainment of someone else's property or to take advantage of a benefit when someone dies).

In my opinion, Mr.Schaivo seems to be doing the latter*attempting murder*, and not operating in the former *one flesh* when he is still legally defined as being married to one woman, but in a commonlaw marriage with another woman, with whom he's had two children.

AS for the supposed "hypocracy" of the "culture of life" folks espoused by a previous poster, let me relate what I went through last year until my own mother passed away.

She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2002 and had surgery in May of that year. There were many serious after effects of the surgery, starting roughly a week after she was released, which were all life threatening, and in fact she did die at one point on the operating table. She did come back to life, however.

Flash forward to May 2003, when she is getting radiation therapy to kill the remaining bit of tumor that was left *as the initial surgery took 10 hours, at which point the anesthetician told the surgeon to stop or risk killing my mother. With me so far?*. This therapy did seem to help her, briefly, but then I noticed her not doing so well.

Flash forward again to early 2004. After a Grand Mal seizure, it is determind that my mother has a recurrence of the tumor, lower in the brain on the brain stem. Inoperable.

Add to this, the problem my mother had with trusting my stepfather, and a growing paranoia she had, plus he dersire to not be on lifesupport from a machine, what do we do?? After she made my younger brother (who is married) in charge of her medical care, and after being told of the inoperable nature of her tumor, my brother and sister in law moved out of their apartment to a home nearby, one which had a room downstairs that became my mother's final resting place until she passed on.

I apologize for the novel. Hell, War and Peace was probably written in less time than it's taken me to write, but I got motivated, so that's my excuse.

To end, I sure have enjoyed reading your thoughts and posts, as they reveal one heck of a woman behind them. You seem to be the epitome of the quote found on THIS t-shirt
which is to say, I compliment you on your sexy mind.

Please keep up the writing, as I'm starting to get the "cold turkey sweats" when I don't see a new post from you.

Most sincerely,

PS I just got a new bottle of Lagavulin recently. Can't wait to see if it's as good as I remember it!

Posted by: KenS at March 23, 2005 05:25 PM

Ken, thanks for the kind words. With all due respect, though, I must disagree with two of the premises you present. The difference between "shalt not kill" and "shalt not murder" I can buy, but *I* don't see any compelling evidence that Schiavo is, with malice or thought to remuneration, trying to murder his wife. There is no evidence whatsoever to support such an idea - if there were, I hardly think that, with such international media scrutiny, such evidence would still be "hidden". This case has been before so many legal minds that I simply cannot believe that not one of 'em would recognize a murderer when they saw one. Remember, the court has, in the past, had the opportunity to yank custodial rights away from Michael Schiavo in favor of the Schindlers, which they obviously did not do.

Additionally, one flesh is one flesh, even when the other half of that flesh isn't operating as everyone in the situation would prefer. If we suspend the one flesh idea when it suits us, rather than through legal dissolution or legal assignment of another guardian, then we have what amounts to legal chaos in a myriad of other situations.

I'm sorry about your mom. Went through something similar with my grandma two years ago - kept alive only to be tortured to death. It hurts to even think about it. Luckily for us, no judicial issue obtained.

Posted by: Queenie at March 23, 2005 07:21 PM

.. even if I were in a vegitative state, I swear I would be dreaming & drooling of Lagavulin... if anything happens to you, dear Queenie, I hope Mr. Mac invites me to the wake... as you know, I am your man...

Posted by: Eric at March 23, 2005 10:12 PM

This is the most well thought out commentary about the Terri Schiavo case. Kudos on every word and I couldn't agree more. The only thing I have to say is "Oh God, I'm single and my SON will be in charge". The boy can't even take care of himself, I'm doomed!

Posted by: Junebugg at March 24, 2005 01:14 AM

Junebugg, you're not doomed. In most states now, you can execute a "living will" in which you name these end of life circumstances (resuscitation, no resusitation, etc), and you may also name your Conservator (the one to make sure those wishes are carried out). All hospitals have the forms to fill out, will provide a competent witness for you (and they are required to give you the forms before you undergo any elective surgery with a general anaesthetic).

If you are really paranoid about it, get a MedicAlert tag made with the wishes, and a short discription of where the document my be found, and wear the tag.

If nothing else comes out of this case, it should be that ALL states should provide for Living Wills, and everyone should have one.

Posted by: Rivrdog at March 24, 2005 02:27 AM

For a brief, dark moment in American history, I watched in horror as the republicans acted like democrats, democrats acted like republicans, and the Congress and our President pissed on both the sanctity of marriage and the sovereignty of the states.

Posted by: oregano at March 24, 2005 02:33 AM

Brilliant analysis. I am very glad that this issue has started a dialog in America about living wills and executors and the like. I do not like that Congress and the Bush Administration has interjected themselves into a very private and very personal and very emotional decision.

Posted by: Florida Bill at March 24, 2005 07:52 AM

Love your blog and agree with you completely. Only have a couple of extra scenarios for you to explore before the walk to the shops.....

1. What if your husband pushed you under that bus in the first place because you told him you wanted a divorce?

2. What if he didnt love you, didnt honour his marriage vows and didnt give you even reasonable care, but found a crooked judge to ignore all sorts of statutes and say he was doing OK?

Your excellent argument rather depends on which man does the 'putting asunder', the court, the parent, or the husband.


Posted by: Cheryl at March 24, 2005 12:14 PM

Why, Cheryl, I'd say that the situation you describe is a conspiracy, and, as such, there should be evidence enough to prove it in a court of law...otherwise, my husband has just committed the perfect crime.

Posted by: Queenie at March 24, 2005 01:16 PM

Oh - and thanks for the kind words, too! ;)

Posted by: Queenie at March 24, 2005 01:16 PM

Good piece of writing. The conservative blogosphere has morphed into the Angry Left on this one. Apparently seeing a 5 second video loop makes people as much, if not more, of an expert as the 19 judges who examined reams of material, to say nothing of the doctors who actually examined Schiavo

Posted by: jeff at March 24, 2005 02:00 PM

Great Post Queenie.

Posted by: J.R. McDowell at March 24, 2005 02:06 PM

DOH, Sorry I needed to update my URL.

Posted by: J.R. McDowell at March 24, 2005 02:07 PM

Well, maybe it shouldn't be, but the state is allowed to not recognize marriages that may be perfectly valid in the eyes of God, etc, like common law marriages in some states. I might consider the oath unconditionally binding, but the state has never been absolutely required to do so. If your husband asserts that you are in fact or in effect dead, is he effectively dissolving the contract?

Posted by: Dave Munger at March 24, 2005 08:07 PM

Well-written, provocative post.

We crossed a line somewhere along the way in this case. It went from being one of many family tragedies played out each year to being political theater. I can understand the parents and siblings of Terri Schiavo disagreeing with her husband and even questioning his motives. I can understand them going to court in the first instance, and perhaps even pursuing a couple of appeals. At that point the parents should have backed off, and the lawyers, politicians, and media should have left it alone.

Now we have a political and media circus on our hands, and the reality is it's none of our business. Not one of us, from the President and the Governor down to me, has any right to be involved.

By the way, I came here on a recommendation from Junebugg. She got it right, again.

Posted by: Tom Carter at March 25, 2005 09:48 AM

I suppose a different view might be appropriate. If you were married in the Church, and I am to assume that you believe in the teachings of said church, than what is your stance on adultary voiding the marriage contract in the eyes of G-d (if not in the eyes of judge Greer)?

When Mr. Schiavo took up with another woman, why does he still have right to speak for his wife. According to the church, he doesn't.

Just an idea. I really hope Terri is not feeling any pain on this.

Posted by: Defense Guy at March 25, 2005 06:26 PM

Defense Guy, I have never in my life heard of a marriage contract being "voided" by adultery. If this were the case, divorce in a case of infidelity would be completely unnecessary - the marriage would already have been dissolved.

For hundreds of years, the Catholic church - the church to which the Schindlers belong - counseled women who were the victims of marital infidelity to pray, and learn to live with it. Nothing voids a marriage contract for a Catholic, save death or annullment.

In the early nineties, the Schindlers by their own admission encouraged Michael Schiavo to date, and admit themselves that before the very mutual unpleasantness over the malpractice settlement, Michael used to bring his girlfriends to meet them, for their approval.

Now he's a dog because he moved on with his life, because he believed, at long last, the diagnosis he refused for years to accept? I have a hard time with the logic in that instance.

Anyway. I just saw Terri's dad on tv. As much as I think they're in the wrong on this, my heart breaks for these people, watching their daughter die in such a horrible way. The real tragedy here is that, in Terri's case, there is no legal provision for a truly humane end.

Posted by: Queenie at March 25, 2005 08:20 PM
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