Alarming News

March 31, 2005

R.I.P Mrs. Schiavo

A good friend of mine recently married a friend to let him stay in the country. They had an engagement party. They got married, didn’t tell her family, and then went home to their respective apartments. If something would happen to her, this man would have control over her fate.

A friend’s sister got married. She had work to tie up at her job and her husband went ahead to Europe where they would meet to honeymoon. On the flight over, he met a woman for whom, a year later, he would leave his wife.

Somewhere between 40-50% of marriages end in divorce in America. I know that people get estranged from their parents or siblings, I haven’t spoken to my own father in years, but I would wager it isn’t half the country.

I realize it is tradition for a spouse to take control, but I feel like we have to face reality: marriage isn’t what is used to be. There are often heard stories of ’starter’ marriages, unions that last only a few years and produce no children. Infidelity is so common in certain communities that no one blinks an eye. Divorce has gotten so easy that I’ve actually heard people take the marriage leap with the ‘D’ word on their tongue, just in case, you know.

I don’t blame Michael Schiavo, and I don’t think he killed his wife or just wanted her out of the picture so he could move on with his life. I think I know what Michael Schiavo wanted, closure or something like it. But, I have no idea what Terri Schiavo wanted and I wonder if a marriage in which a spouse has two children by someone else can even still be considered a marriage. And if it can, as it obviously was by the courts, what is marriage at all then?

Call me unromantic. Tell me I don’t know. But the truth is, marriage is in crisis. It’s time to reconsider whether a spouse, with a 50% chance of being an ex-spouse, should have the level of control that they currently do. I vote ‘no’.

Posted by Karol at 11:47 AM |
Comments

Karol, that is a wonderful wrap-up on the situation.

Posted by: Vanessa at March 31, 2005 at 12:27 pm

Forgive me for not remembering your past position on this, but I suppose this means that you are in favor of allowing homosexuals to participate in this now-degraded institution, right?

Posted by: ugarte at March 31, 2005 at 12:32 pm

Ugarte, I am completely against court intervention in gay marriage. I think it will do better for the gay marriage cause if it is an issue decided through the legislature.

Posted by: Karol at March 31, 2005 at 12:34 pm

Wasn’t the law in Florida, that the spouse have control, decided by the legislature? By the state legislature at that?
Someone has to be in control in these situations short of a living will. I don’t think parents are necessarily better than spouses. Even if you and said spouse break up, chances are they know the adult you, the most recent version of your leanings, wishes, desires and a host of other things you might keep hidden from your parents.
I slip into a vegetative state, what’s not to say that my parents will decide I’m Catholic, because that’s what they want.
Shit. I better go get married quick.

Posted by: ken at March 31, 2005 at 12:37 pm

Ken, I know it is, I guess I’m talking about thinking on a larger scale, with a 50% divorce rate and all, whether we should automatically grant spouse rights over things like this.
As for your parents, I don’t know. I trust my brother to make every single decision for me in case of an emergency.

Posted by: Karol at March 31, 2005 at 12:53 pm

What does the decision to terminate treatment – the only supposed “control” you reference – have to do with marriage in crisis?
Yes, what Michael Schiavo wanted was what the courts ultimately found Terri would have wanted – but the courts did not do what Michael Schiavo wanted simply because he was her husband. Michael Schiavo did not have the power to decide on his own that Terri would want to die. The court tried (perhaps failing, perhaps succeeding) to determine what Terri would have wanted. No extra weight was given to Michael’s testimony because he was her husband (indeed, reading the decisions, the opposite appears to have been true). Nor did the courts discount the Schindlers’ testimony because they were Terri’s parents. There is simply no evidence of Michael Schiavo’s “control” in making this decision.

Posted by: Alceste at March 31, 2005 at 12:54 pm

Alceste, ultimately it was his word against her parents, since she had not written anything down. Again, I don’t so much ‘blame’ him as blame the idea that someone we choose should get more consideration than those that birthed us or are related to us by blood.

Posted by: Karol at March 31, 2005 at 1:00 pm

That is pretty much what I suspected, Karol. I figured you for pro-GM, anti-judiciary. Just as you probably rightly figure that I am fairly comfortable with judges upending the man-woman sanctity piffle (even though I agree with you that it is politically inflammatory with very high blowback potential).

Posted by: ugarte at March 31, 2005 at 1:02 pm

Actually, Karol, it was his word (along with 4 or 5 other witnesses) of her adult wishes vs. her parents testimony of her wishes as a 12-year-old plus an easily debunked, contextless magical repetition to someone else when she turned 18. (What are the odds!)
The evidence of her wishes isn’t as strong as a living will, but there was no evidence that the adult Terri Schiavo wanted to be kept on life support.

Posted by: ugarte at March 31, 2005 at 1:05 pm

Karol, I don’t see how your argument follows. You basically say “because 50% of marriages end in divorce, a spouse shouldn’t be granted custody of an incapacitated person.”
But these two phenomena usually are unrelated. Just because they are related in the Schiavo case doesn’t mean they’re related elsewhere.
Why should my wife not be my guardian if I’m incapacitated just because 50% of marriages end in divorce? The only connection is incidental, and that incident is the Schiavo case.

Posted by: Dave at March 31, 2005 at 1:20 pm

In Minnesota, by using a health care power of attorney form you can designate any person over 18 to make those life and death decisions for you.
I don’t know New York law (or Minnesota either). But, if you want your brother to make those life and death decisions for you, it would be wise for you to fill out such a form today.

Posted by: Jake at March 31, 2005 at 1:23 pm

Dave, I’m just saying that with marriage being what it is, it shouldn’t be automatic that the spouse makes the decisions.

Posted by: Karol at March 31, 2005 at 1:27 pm

I’d just like to point out, Karol, that the system you are hinting at is one that will require much more judicial intervention than you are usually willing to tolerate. It would be impossible to legislate all of the contingencies and it would be left to the courts to decide in each individual case.

Posted by: ugarte at March 31, 2005 at 1:45 pm

As a married man, I would want my wife to make that sort of decision for me. I trust her more than anyone else to look after my interests if I was incapacitated.
I also think it is wrong to criticize Michael Schiavo for starting a new family. The Terri Schiavo that he married died 15 years ago, not this morning. Michael Schiavo believed that his wife did not want to go on in a vegetative state and he fought to carry out her wishes.

Posted by: Dan at March 31, 2005 at 1:51 pm

With the caveat that I fear I am becoming annoying, a response to two of the comments.
the idea that someone we choose should get more consideration than those that birthed us or are related to us by blood.
Dave, I’m just saying that with marriage being what it is, it shouldn’t be automatic that the spouse makes the decisions.
I agree – it shouldn’t be automatic – indeed, it wasn’t automatic here. Anyone with knowledge of Terri Schiavo’s wishes was permitted to testify. Michael Schiavo’s testimony did not get more consideration because he was her husband – it got more consideration because the judge decided that it, unlike the parents’ testimony, was credible. However badly you think of the process used or the results of that process, I don’t think it’s fair to describe it as an automatic one.

Posted by: Alceste at March 31, 2005 at 2:46 pm

After this mess, I think hospitals are going to require a signed living will before they admit you.
I recently had to go to an outpatient clinic in a Minnesota hospital for a 15 minute procedure. Because I would have to take a pain killer, the nurse wanted me to bring my living will to the appointment.

Posted by: Jake at March 31, 2005 at 2:52 pm

Ignoring everything else about the court’s decision-making process, the legislative background (ie determining Terri’s wishes), the facts of this particular case and all of the very valid points already made, your position here seems to be:
Because 50% of marriages end in divorce, and (anecdotally) less than 50% of children become estranged from their parents, someone who is CURRENTLY married to the incapacitated individual should have no control in this type of a situation.
Why? What makes the fact that I am your genetic offspring so sacrosanct that it should override the decision of the person I choose to spend my life with (and am currently spending it with)? Who do you think knows me better – my wife with whom I’ve spent nearly every day for the last ten years, all as an adult (even if one of us has been cheating on the other), or my parents that I haven’t lived with for the last twenty and with whom I lived only when I was a child? And what if my parents are divorced and have competing ideas of what I would have wanted or competing ideas of what they want for me? Then what?
Your position doesn’t seem very well thought-out on this one.

Posted by: asphnxma at March 31, 2005 at 3:00 pm

Can you believe how insenstive President Bush when he used the death of Terri Schiavo to segway into a talk on National Security and WMD?

Posted by: J. Mark English at March 31, 2005 at 4:07 pm

Karol.
Wow. you have made a post i wholeheartedly agree with.

Posted by: Nick Saunders at March 31, 2005 at 4:59 pm

If I had flat brain waves, I don’t think I’d care what they were doing . . .

Posted by: Downtown Lad at March 31, 2005 at 7:11 pm

I guess I’m in the minority.
I’m on my second wife, and I’ve only been married 6 months, and for all but about a week of that we’ve been geographically separated by about 16,000km, and I still think I’d want her above all others to be in charge of such a decision.
And, if I didn’t, and the prevailing wisdom was spouses are in lieu of a document expressly putting someone else in charge, I’d create said document. After all someone needs to be the de facto.
Just because other people don’t take their marriage seriously, doesn’t mean that marriage isn’t one of the most serious things that we do, it just means that they are immature in their decision making.

Posted by: Kearns at March 31, 2005 at 7:20 pm

And i,ll bet if mr schiavo had starved a dog the judge would have him in prison and everyone would in hollywood would want him dead but he just had his wife starved and they dont say a thing hollywood is a sick sick place

Posted by: mad heron at March 31, 2005 at 10:03 pm

Two unrelated points if you ask me:
1 – The failure rate of marriages
2 – The rights you give to your spouse
1) Marriages fail for a lot of reasons. Partly because it is easier for a marriage to fail than to succeed. Marriages take work and need help to survive.
This can be making divorce hard (for generalist divorces such as “I dont like that one any more, I want a new sweety”) but easier for obvious cases of spousal or child abuse (man on woman or woman on man, needs equal consideration).
Financial incentives, such as better taxes and pensions would help. In the UK it almost pays to be divorced but co-habit, rather than stay married. France has had an increased birth rate and increased marriages, less divorce over the last few years due to a few social changes.
Finally, we should make it harder to get married, make sure people are genuinely committted. And discourage people from marrying just because they are up the duff.
2) You do not choose your family, as the saying goes. That is true of your parents and siblings, but you DO choose your spouse and you DO choose to have your children. Parents legally have legal responsibility for their child’s actions (upto a certain age), and also married people have legal rights over their partner.
If you dont wish this I think you should create a legal document to say who you wish as your legal guardian.

Posted by: Monjo at April 1, 2005 at 5:44 am

Hello…Hello…is this thing on? Nobody seems to be listening to poor Alceste. :)

Posted by: PAUL at April 1, 2005 at 9:22 am

Paul – pity me not – if I actually expected people to respond to something I wrote, I’d update my own blog more than once a week :)

Posted by: Alceste at April 1, 2005 at 2:10 pm
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