TCS Daily

What Steroids and Schiavo Have in Common

By Ryan H. Sager - March 22, 2005 12:00 AM

In coming years, political historians might look back and try to pinpoint the day or week or month that the Republican Party shed the last vestiges of its small-government philosophy. If and when they do, the week just past should make the short list. For it was in this last week that the Republican-controlled Congress made it clear that it sees no area of American life -- none too trivial and none too intimate -- that the federal government should not permeate with its power.

It can all be summed up in two words: steroids and Schiavo.

If there is an issue less deserving of Congressional attention than whether a few overpaid, bat-wielding jocks might have injected themselves with substances to help them wield their bats better, then it has yet to be discovered by the House's Government Reform Committee, which held last week's hearings.

"More than just the reputation of baseball is at risk. Our primary focus remains the message that's being sent to ... children," Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee's chairman, said last week -- though neither topic fits terribly neatly under the heading of any of Congress' enumerated powers.

Still, such concerns didn't deter supposed small-government conservative Sen. John McCain from suggesting that "we ought to seriously consider ... a law that says all professional sports have a minimum level of performance-enhancing drug testing."

When you're a lawmaker, apparently, every problem seems to cry out for a law.

But if Congress' dealings with the trivial are appalling, they are nothing compared to its exploitation of the tragic.

There, we have the sad case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a "permanent vegetative state" whose feeding tube had been removed at her husband's urging -- and based on a court's findings regarding her wishes on the matter only to have Congress and President Bush intervene ostensibly on her behalf.

Putting aside the tangled facts of the case for the moment -- which include some bitter family history and selective science on both sides -- the driving question here should be: Does Congress have a role?

And when it comes to a family dispute over a painful medical decision, one which at least 19 judges in six courts have already adjudicated, the answer must be a resounding "no."

The forums for matters such as the Schiavo case are state courts, upholding state laws. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives -- who want Roe v. Wade overturned and the issue of abortion moved back to state legislatures and courts -- should understand this better than any other group of Americans.

Conservatives, of course, recognize their hypocrisy. And they're offering up weak rationalizations, like this one from The Wall Street Journal in an editorial Monday: "We'd have more sympathy for this argument if the same liberals who are complaining about the possibility of the federal courts reviewing Mrs. Schiavo's case felt as strongly about restraining the federal judiciary when it comes to abortion, homosexuality, and other social issues they don't want to trust to local communities."

In other words: Our opponents are hypocrites, so we can be, too.

The Journal goes on to argue, rather implausibly, that the federal government has a legitimate role in the Schiavo case because she has been issued a "death sentence," warranting federal review. Alternately, the paper argues, Schiavo may have been deprived of her "due process" rights.

This is all nonsense.

The state is not ordering the killing of Terri Schiavo. Her husband is requesting she be allowed to die, based on her wishes. It is not up to Congress, or the American public, to decide whether they approve of Terri Schiavo's decision. And it is not up to the federal courts to second-guess the Florida courts, which have reviewed the case thoroughly, as to the facts of the case.

Furthermore, despite what some such as Peggy Noonan have argued, this will not be a political boon to the Republican Party. Not a few people -- especially boomers with aging parents -- are going to see themselves in this case, and they are going to picture Rep. Tom DeLay in the hospital room with them, standing between them and their loved ones.

But, of course, this means nothing to a national Republican Party increasingly impervious to the logic of its own prior positions.

Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at


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