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The Ordeal of Terri Schiavo and the Right to Life

Location: Washington, DC

THE ORDEAL OF TERRI SCHIAVO AND THE RIGHT TO LIFE -- (House of Representatives - April 06, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Dent). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Paul) is recognized for 60 minutes.

Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, today in this Special Order I want to address two subjects, the first being the ordeal of Terri Schiavo and the right-to-life issue.

Mr. Speaker, clearly no one wins in the legal and political battles over the death of Terri Schiavo. Although it has been terribly politicized, a valuable debate has emerged. This debate is not about abortion or euthanasia in general, nor about death in the abstract. It is about an individual's right to life and the value of life itself. Without concern for the life of each, individual liberty is meaningless and indefensible.

This debate deals with the passive treatment of the critically and terminally ill. This type of decision is manageable most of the time without government interference, but circumstances in this case made it difficult to determine proper guardianship. The unprecedented level of government involvement, questions about which branch of government had the ultimate say, and what the explicit intent of the patient was brought national attention to what was otherwise a family conflict.

Terri Schiavo is a unique case, and, unfortunately, her fate ended up in the hands of the lawyers, the judges and the legislators. The media certainly did their part in disrupting her final days.

In a free society, the doctor and the patient, or his or her designated spokesperson, make the decision, short of using violence, in dealing with death and dying issues. The government stays out of it.

This debate, though, shows that one life is indeed important. It is not an esoteric subject. It is a real life involved and a personal issue we cannot ignore, especially in this age of Medicare, with government now responsible for most of the medical bills.

We are rapidly moving toward a time when these decisions will be based on the cost of care alone, since government pays all the bills under national health care. As we defer to the state for our needs, and parental power is transferred to government, it is casually expected that government will be making more and more of these decisions. This has occurred in education, general medical care and psychological testing. The government now can protect the so-called right of a teenager to have an abortion, sometimes paid for by the government, without notifying the parents.

Free-market medicine is not perfect, but it is the best system to sort out these difficult problems, and it did so for years.

Eventually government medicine surely will ignore the concern for a single patient as a person, and instead, a computer program and cost analysis will make the determination. It will be said to be more efficient, though morally unjustified, to allow a patient to die by court order rather than permitting family and friends to assume responsibility for the cost of keeping patients alive.

There is plenty of hypocrisy to go around on both sides of this lingering and prolonged debate. In this instance, we heard some very sound arguments from the left defending States rights and family responsibility while criticizing the Federal Government involvement. I am anxious for the day when those who made these arguments join me in defending the Constitution and States rights, especially the 9th and 10th amendment, on many other economic and social issues. I will not hold my breath.

More importantly, where are those who rightfully condemn congressional meddling in the Schiavo case because of federalism and separation of powers on the issue of abortion? These same folks strongly defend Roe v. Wade and the so-called constitutional right to abort healthy human fetuses at any stage. There is no hesitation to demand support of this phony right from both Congress and the Federal courts. Not only do they demand Federal legal protection for abortion, they insist that abortion foes be forced to fund this act that many of them equate with murder.

It is too bad that philosophic consistency and strict adherence to the Constitution are not a high priority for many Members, but perhaps this flexibility in administering the rule of law helps create problems such as we faced in the Schiavo ordeal.

Though the left produced some outstanding arguments for the Federal Government staying out of this controversy, they frequently used an analogy that could never persuade those of us who believe in a free society guided by the constraints of the Constitution. They argued that if conservatives who supported prolonging Terri's life would only spend more money on welfare, they would demonstrate sincere concern for the right to life.

This is false logic and does nothing to build the case for a local government solution to a feeding tube debate.

First, all wealth transfers depend on an authoritarian state willing to use lethal force to satisfy the politicians' notion of an unachievable fair society. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, no matter how well intentioned, can never be justified. It is theft plain and simple and morally wrong. Actually, welfare is antiprosperity so it cannot be prolife. Too often good intentions are motivated only by the good that someone believes will result from the transfer program. They never ask who must pay, who must be threatened, who must be arrested and imprisoned. They never ask whether the welfare funds taken by forcible taxation could have helped someone in a private or voluntary way.

Practically speaking, welfare rarely works. The hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war on poverty over the last 50 years has done little to eradicate poverty. Matter of fact, worthwhile studies show that poverty is actually made worse by government efforts to eradicate poverty. Certainly the whole system does nothing to build self-esteem, and more often than not does exactly the opposite.

My suggestion to my colleagues who did argue convincingly that Congress should not be involved in the Schiavo case is please consider using these same arguments consistently, and avoid the false accusation that if one opposes increases in welfare, one is not prolife. Being proliberty and pro-Constitution is indeed being prolife, as well as proprosperity.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are equally inconsistent in their arguments for life. There is little hesitation by the conservative right to come to Congress to promote their moral agenda, even when it is not within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government to do so.

Take, for instance, the funding of faith-based charities. The process is of little concern to conservatives if their agenda is met by passing more Federal laws and increasing spending. Instead of concentrating on the repeal of Roe v. Wade and eliminating Federal judiciary authority over issues best dealt with at the State level, more Federal laws are passed which, strictly speaking, should not be the prerogative of the Federal Government.

The biggest shortcoming of the Christian right position is its adamancy for protecting life in its very early, late and weakened stages, while enthusiastically supporting aggressive war that results in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. While the killing of the innocent unborn represents a morally decadent society, and all life deserves an advocate, including Terri Schiavo, promoting a policy of deadly sanctions and all-out war against a nation that committed no act of aggression against us cannot come close to being morally consistent or defendable under our Constitution.

The one issue generally ignored in the Schiavo debate is the subtle influence the cost of care for the dying had on the debate. Government-paid care clouds the issue, and it must be noted that the courts ruled out any privately paid care for Terri. It could be embarrassing in a government-run nursing home to see some patients receiving extra care from families while others are denied the same. However, as time goes on, the economics of care will play even a greater role since under socialized medicine the state makes all the decisions based on affordability. Then there will be no debate, as we just witnessed in the case of Terri Schiavo.

Having practiced medicine in simpler times, agonizing problems like we just witnessed in this case did not arise. Yes, similar medical decisions were made and have been made for many, many years, but lawyers were not involved, nor the courts, nor the legislators, nor any part of the government; only the patient, the patient's family and the doctor. No one would have dreamed of making a Federal case of the dying process.

A society and a government that lose respect for life help create dilemmas of this sort. Today there is little respect for life; witness the number of abortions performed each year. There is little respect for liberty; witness the rules and laws that regulate our every move. There is little respect for peace; witness our eagerness to initiate war to impose our will on others. Tragically, government financing of the elderly, out of economic necessity, will usher in an age of euthanasia.

The accountants already have calculated that if the baby-boomer generation is treated to allow maximum longevity without quality of life concerns, we are talking about $7 trillion in additional medical costs. Economists will determine the outcome, and personal decisions will vanish. National health care, of necessity, will always conflict with personal choices.

Compounding the cost problems that will lead to government-ordered euthanasia is the fact that costs always skyrocket in government-run programs. This is true whether it is a $300 hammer for the Pentagon or an emergency room visit for a broken toe, and in addition, deficit financing, already epidemic because of our flawed philosophy of guns and butter, always leads to inflation when a country operates on a paper money system.

Without a renewal in the moral fiber of the country and respect for the constitutional rule of law, we can expect a lot more and worse problems than we witnessed in the case of Terri Schiavo. When dying and medical care becomes solely a commercial event, we will long for the days of debating what was best for Terri.

Hopefully this messy debate will lead more Members to be convinced that all life is precious, that family and patient wishes should be respected, and that government jurisprudence and financing fall far short of providing a just solution in these difficult matters.


Mr. PAUL. On another subject dealing more with foreign policy, I would like to address what is going on in Iraq.

Mr. Speaker, whenever the administration is challenged regarding the success of the Iraq War or regarding the false information used to justify the war, the retort is, "Aren't the people of Iraq better off?" The insinuation is that anyone who expresses any reservations about supporting the war is an apologist for Saddam Hussein and every ruthless act he ever committed.

The short answer to the question of whether the Iraqis are better off is that it is still too early to declare, "Mission accomplished." But more importantly, we should be asking if the mission was ever justified or legitimate in the first place. Is it legitimate to justify an action that some claim yielded good results, if the means used to achieve them are illegitimate? Do the ends justify the means?

The information Congress was given prior to the war was false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; the Iraqis did not participate in the 9/11 attacks; Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were enemies and did not conspire against the United States; our security was not threatened; we were not welcomed by cheering Iraqi crowds as we were told; and Iraqi oil has not paid any of the bills.

Congress failed to declare war, but instead passed a wishy-washy resolution citing U.N. resolutions as justifications for our invasion. After the fact, now we are told the real reason for the Iraqi invasion was to spread democracy, and that the Iraqis are better off. Anyone who questions the war risks being accused of supporting Saddam Hussein, disapproving of democracy, or "supporting terrorists." It is implied that lack of enthusiasm for the war means one is not patriotic and does not support the troops. In other words, one must march lockstep with the consensus or be ostracized.

However, conceding that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein is a far cry from endorsing the foreign policy of our own government that led to regime change. In time it will become clear to everyone that support for the policies of preemptive war and interventionist nation-building will have much greater significance than the removal of Saddam Hussein itself.

The interventionist policy should be scrutinized more carefully than the purported benefits of Saddam Hussein's removal from power. The real question ought to be this: Are we better off with a foreign policy that promotes regime change while justifying war with false information? Shifting the stated goals as events unravel should not satisfy those who believe war must be a last resort used only when our national security is threatened.

How much better off are the Iraqi people? Hundreds of thousands of former inhabitants of Fallujah are not better off with their city flattened and their homes destroyed. Hundreds of thousands are not better off living with foreign soldiers patrolling their streets, curfews, and the loss of basic utilities. A hundred thousand dead Iraqis, as estimated by the Lancet Medical Journal, certainly are not better off. Better to be alive under Saddam Hussein than lying cold in some grave.

Praise for the recent election in Iraq has silenced many critics of the war. Yet the election was held under martial law implemented by a foreign power, mirroring the conditions we rightfully condemned as a farce when carried out in the old Soviet system and more recently in Lebanon. Why is it that what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander?

Our government fails to recognize that legitimate elections are the consequence of freedom and that an artificial election does not create freedom. In our own history, we note that freedom was achieved first and elections followed, not the other way around.

One news report claimed that the Shiites actually received 56 percent of the vote, but such an outcome could not be allowed for it would preclude a coalition of the Kurds and the Shiites from controlling the Sunnis and preventing a theocracy from forming. This reminds us of the statements made months ago by Secretary Rumsfeld when asked about a Shiite theocracy emerging from a majority democratic vote, and he assured us that would not happen. Democracy, we know, is messy and needs tidying up a bit when we do not like the results.

Some have described Baghdad, and especially the Green Zone, as being surrounded by unmanageable territory. The highways in and out of Baghdad are not yet secure. Many anticipate a civil war will break out sometime soon in Iraq. Some claim it is already under way.

We have seen none of the promised oil production that was supposed to provide grateful Iraqis with the means to repay us for the hundreds of billions of dollars that American taxpayers have spent on the war. Some have justified our continuous presence in the Persian Gulf since 1990 because of a need to protect "our" oil. Yet now that Saddam Hussein is gone and the occupation supposedly is a great success, gasoline at the pumps is reaching record highs, approaching $3 a gallon.

Though the Iraqi election has come and gone, there still is no government in place and the next election, supposedly the real one, is not likely to take place on time. Do the American people have any idea who really won the dubious election at all?

The Oil-for-Food scandal under Saddam Hussein has been replaced by corruption in the distribution of U.S. funds to rebuild Iraq. Already there is an admitted $9 billion discrepancy in the accounting of these funds. The overbilling by Halliburton is no secret, but the process has not changed.

The whole process is corrupt. It just does not make sense to most Americans to see their tax dollars used to fight an unnecessary and unjustified war. First, they see American bombs destroying a country, and then American taxpayers are required to rebuild it. Today it is easier to get funding to rebuild infrastructure in Iraq than it is to build a bridge in the United States. Indeed, we cut the Army Corps of Engineers' budget and operate on the cheap with our veterans as the expenditures in Iraq skyrocket.

One question the war promoters do not want to hear asked, because they do not want to face up to the answer, is this: Are Christian Iraqis better off today since we decided to build a new Iraq through force of arms? The answer is plainly, no.

Sure, there are 800,000 Christians living in Iraq, but under Saddam Hussein they were free to practice their religion. Tariq Aziz, a Christian, served in Saddam Hussein's cabinet as foreign minister, something that would never happen in Saudi Arabia, Israel, or any other Middle Eastern country. Today, the Christian churches in Iraq are under attack and Christians are no longer safe. Many Christians have been forced to flee Iraq and migrate to Syria. It is strange that the human rights advocates in the U.S. Congress have expressed no concern for the persecution now going on against Christians in Iraq. Both the Sunni and the Shiite Muslims support the attacks on the Christians. In fact, persecuting Christians is one of the few areas in which they agree; the other being the removal of all foreign forces from Iraqi soil.
Considering the death, destruction, and continued chaos in Iraq, it is difficult to accept the blanket statement that the Iraqis all feel much better off with the U.S. in control rather than Saddam Hussein. Security in the streets and criminal violence are not anywhere near being under control.

But there is another question that is equally important: Are the American people better off because of the Iraq war?

One thing for sure, the 1,500-plus dead American soldiers are not better off. The nearly 20,000 injured or sickened American troops are not better off. The families, the wives, the husbands, children, parents, and friends of those who lost so much are not better off. The families and the 40,000 troops who were forced to reenlist against their will, a de facto draft, are not feeling better off. They believe they have been deceived by their enlistment agreements.

The American taxpayers are not better off having spent over $200 billion to pursue this war, with billions yet to be spent. The victims of the inflation that always accompanies a guns-and-butter policy are already getting a dose of what will become much worse.

Are our relationships with the rest of the world better off? I would say no. Because of the war, our alliances with the Europeans are weaker than ever. The anti-American hatred among a growing number of Muslims around the world is greater than ever. This makes terrorist attacks more likely than they were before the invasion. Al Qaeda recruiting has accelerated. Iraq is being used as a training ground for the al Qaeda terrorists, which it never was under Hussein's rule.

So as our military recruitment efforts suffer, Osama bin Laden benefits by attracting pre-terrorist volunteers.

Oil was approximately $27 a barrel before the war; now it is more than twice that. I wonder who benefits from this?

Because of the war, fewer dollars are available for real national security and defense of this country. Military spending is up, but the way the money is spent distracts from true national defense and further undermines our credibility around the world.

The ongoing war's lack of success has played a key role in diminishing morale in our military services. Recruitment is sharply down and most branches face shortages of troops. Many young Americans rightly fear a coming draft, which will be required if we do not reassess and change the unrealistic goals of our foreign policy.

The appropriations for the war are essentially off-budget and obscure, but contribute nonetheless to the runaway deficit and increase in the national debt. If these trends persist, inflation with economic stagnation will be the inevitable consequences of a misdirected policy.

One of the most significant consequences in times of war that we ought to be concerned about is the inevitable loss of personal liberty. Too often in the patriotic nationalism that accompanies armed conflict, regardless of the cause, there is a willingness to sacrifice personal freedoms in pursuit of victory. The real irony is that we are told we go hither and yon to fight for freedom and our Constitution, while carelessly sacrificing the very freedoms here at home we are supposed to be fighting for. It makes no sense.

This willingness to give up hard-fought personal liberties has been especially noticeable in the atmosphere of the post-September 11 war on terrorism. Security has replaced liberty as our main political goal, damaging the American spirit. Sadly, the whole process is done in the name of patriotism and in a spirit of growing militant nationalism.

These attitudes and fears surrounding the 9/11 tragedy and our eagerness to go to war in the Middle East against countries not responsible for the attacks have allowed a callousness to develop in our national psyche that justifies torture and rejects due process of law for those who are suspects and not convicted criminals.

We have come to accept preemptive war as necessary, constitutional, and morally justifiable. Starting a war without a proper declaration is now of no concern to most Americans or the U.S. Congress. Let us hope and pray the rumors of an attack on Iran in June by U.S. Armed Forces are wrong.

A large segment of the Christian community and its leadership think nothing of rationalizing war in the name of a religion that prides itself on the teachings of the Prince of Peace, who instructed us that blessed are the peacemakers, not the warmongers.

We casually accept our role as world policemen and believe we have a moral obligation to practice nation-building in our image regardless of the number of people who die in the process.

We have lost our way by rejecting the beliefs that made our country great. We no longer trust in trade, friendship, peace, the Constitution, and the principle of neutrality while avoiding entangling alliances with the rest of the world. Spreading the message of hope and freedom by setting an example for the world has been replaced by a belief that the use of armed might is the only practical tool to influence the world. And we have accepted, as the only superpower, the principle of initiating war against others.

In the process, Congress and the people have endorsed a usurpation of their own authority, generously delivered to the executive and judicial branches, not to mention international government bodies. The concept of national sovereignty is now seen as an issue that concerns only the fringe in our society.

Protection of life and liberty must once again become the issue that drives political thought in this country. If this goal is replaced by an effort to promote world government, use force to plan the economy, regulate the people, and police the world against the voluntary desires of the people, it can be done only with the establishment of a totalitarian state. There is no need for that. It is up to Congress and the American people to decide our fate, and there is still time to correct our mistakes.

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