Eleanor Clift is not a pundit I admire (and that's putting it mildly), but I respect the compassion and dedication she had in handling the final months with her husband, who succumbed last Wednesday to cancer. Her role, unpleasant and painful as it was, was as it should be in a husband-wife relationship. They were as one flesh, living under the implicit premise within the bonds of marriage that each would act in each other's best interest. Ms. Clift did everything she could to make the waning days of Tom Brazaitis' life as comfortable and noble as possible, and I pray that she can find comfort in the loss of "the person I have been closest to for more than 20 years."
And that is exactly what has bothered me about Michael Schiavo choosing to end the life of his wife, Terri Schiavo. While the courts consistently ruled that Mr. Schiavo had the authority--because of the marital relationship--to act on behalf of Terri, the presumption that he would act in her very best interests does not and cannot hold (I'm speaking on a moral plane here, not a legal one). In effect, Mr. Schiavo is either a bigamist or he is a widower who became de facto married to Jodi Centonze, whom he has lived with since 1995, has called her his fiance since 1990 and now has children with Ms. Centonze aged one and 2½. Michael Schiavo emotionally, spiritually and physically moved on over a decade ago. Three years into his effective marriage with Ms. Centonze, Mr. Schiavo petitioned the court to starve Terri to death in 1998, based on hearsay evidence that Terri would have wanted it that way. The age-old phrase "you cannot serve two masters" applies here, or in this case a man cannot serve two wives because one of the spouses is going to get the short end. Tragically and wrongly, Terri got the short end, and the fatal end as well.
Herma Hill Kay of UC Berkeley said, "Marriage is viewed as a consensual contract entered into by people who have legal capacity to marry, to in effect forsake all other bonds and cleave only to the other person, to take the words from most marriage ceremonies." Michael Schiavo clearly did not foresake all other bonds and he clearly has cleaved to Jodi Centonze. The trouble with the law as it stands now is that it does not make sufficient moral distinctions on marital relationships. There is a gap between what is right and what is legal, and it's a gap that can and should be closed. Joe Carter wrote this:
The locus of this tragedy is Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo. Although he is still married to Terri, he is currently cohabitating with Jodi Centonze, a woman with whom he shares two children. Under Florida state law, if Michael attempted to marry Jodi while Terri is still living and their marriage remains undissolved, his action would be considered "illegal, bigamous, and void from its inception." In fact, it is likely that if a marriage license were found showing that Michael and Jodi had secretly married, he would no longer be considered a suitable guardian for his invalid wife. Yet because Florida repealed common law marriage laws in 1968, he can live like a bigamist without having to suffer the legal consequences.
Florida is also a "no fault" divorce state, which means that a history of infidelity is of no concern to the courts. While adulterous conduct might be used in determining the "moral fitness" of a parent seeking custody, it apparently can’t be used as evidence of lack of "moral fitness" to be a husband. Even though he has committed adultery, sired illegitimate children, and openly shares Terri’s marriage bed with another woman, he is still considered fit to undertake his role as a "husband." By giving Michael Schiavo guardianship over his "wife", the Florida courts have exposed the absurdity of marriage laws.
James Taranto also tosses in healthy amounts of common sense:
Supporters of Michael Schiavo's effort to end his wife's life have asked how conservatives, who claim to believe in the sanctity of marriage, can fail to respect his husbandly authority. The most obvious answer is that a man's authority as a husband does not supersede his wife's rights as a human being--a principle we never thought we'd see liberals question.
But why do those of us who aren't right-to-life absolutists side with Mrs. Schiavo's parents, who want to keep her alive, over her husband, who wants her dead? It's a fair question, and it raises another one: What kind of husband is Michael Schiavo?
According to news reports, Mr. Schiavo lives with a woman named Jodi Centonze, and they have two children together. Surely any court would consider this prima facie evidence of adultery. And this is no mere fling; a sympathetic 2003 profile in the Orlando Sentinel described Centonze as Mr. Schiavo's "fiancée." Mr. Schiavo, in other words, has virtually remarried. Short of outright bigamy, his relationship with Centonze is as thoroughgoing a violation of his marriage vows as it is possible to imagine.
The point here is not to castigate Mr. Schiavo for behaving badly. It would require a heroic degree of self-sacrifice for a man to forgo love and sex in order to remain faithful to an incapacitated wife, and it would be unreasonable to hold an ordinary man to a heroic standard.
But it is equally unreasonable to let Mr. Schiavo have it both ways. If he wishes to assert his marital authority to do his wife in, the least society can expect in return is that he refrain from making a mockery of his marital obligations. The grimmest irony in this tragic case is that those who want Terri Schiavo dead are resting their argument on the fiction that her marriage is still alive.
To me, Mr. Schiavo lost his moral presumption. Consequently, the decision on the fate of the life of a human being should have erred on the side of life. Because of how this all played out, the death of Terri Schiavo is a blot on our society and on the law.
Changing gears, Karol Wojtyla has shown the world--through his acts for the past 26 years--how live, and now he is setting an example to the world on how to leave it. The phrase "two out of three ain't bad" does not apply here. There are many things to be taken from these recent events, and there are lessons to be learned on how to live and how to die when that time comes. I just hope they are the right things and the right lessons.
(cross-posted at Redstate.org)