I'm going to frame this issue in an extremely narrow legal context because I feel that people have lost focus in the Terri Schiavo case. Politicians and pro-life activists have blown Schiavo's tragedy out of proportion. Let's set aside questions on morality and the motives underlying the tension between Terri's parents and her husband, Michael. The issue remains the same as it was seven years ago, when the Florida court ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo. Back then, the court wasn't addressing euthanasia or the right to life; instead, the question was - and still is - who has the authority to determine the medical treatment of another person.
As a minor, if you had a life threatening accident that left you unconscious, your parents had the authority to determine the extent of your medical treatment. Your parents may still have this authority when you are an unmarried adult. In the absence of your parents, this authority may extend to your blood relatives (e.g. brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents). However, once you get married, your parents no longer retain this authority. Instead, your husband or wife does. Eventually, in the absence of a spouse, your children determine the extent of your medical treatment when they become adults. And in the absence of your spouse or adult children, the hospitals then look to your parents and other close blood relatives.
So why do we keep asking the courts to overturn established law? I don't know. The courts are historically hesitant to resolve family disputes in the public arena. Only in rare instances will the court overturn established rules as a matter of public policy. However, when the Florida district courts, the Florida Supreme Court, the US federal courts, and the US Supreme Court all refuse to rule against Michael Schiavo, the courts are sending a clear message as to who has authority to determine a spouse's medical treatment.
I believe the greatest tragedy is the public hypocrisy. In Terri's case, she allegedly wanted to be removed from life support in the event that she becomes incapacitated. But what about Sun Hudson, a 5-month-old boy taken off life support against the wishes of his mother? Or Barbara Howe, whose daughter is fighting against the hospital to keep her mother on life support? These are cases where there is no indication that the patient wishes to be removed from life support and where the family is adamant about keeping their loved one on life support.
Furthermore, what sort of message does our legislative and executive government send by stepping into this frey? What gives the government the right to interfere with our private matters? Is the government trying to save a life or merely pushing an agenda? Dr. Jack Kevorkian, better known as Dr. Death for his involvement in assisted suicides, remarks, "What bothers me is the bit of hypocrisy in all of this. When the president and the Congress get involved because life is sacred and must be preserved at all costs, they don't say anything about the men on death row, and their lives are just as precious."