Jeb Bush's shameful vendetta

June 26, 2005|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - Malcolm X used to speak of the need to get freedom "by any means necessary." Apparently, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush feels the same about the need to get Michael Schiavo.

Mr. Bush directed the state's attorney to open an investigation into whether Mr. Schiavo delayed in calling paramedics when he found his wife, Terri, passed out in their bathroom before sunrise on Feb. 25, 1990. The pretext for this is that over the years, Mr. Schiavo has given conflicting estimates of the time he found his wife. He's said 4:30 a.m., he's said 5 a.m.

So let's see. It's the sleepy hours before dawn. You find your wife passed out. And you check the clock?

No. You panic, you try to revive her, you call 911. That Mr. Schiavo did so in a timely manner has never been at issue before and, in any event, seems established to a medical certainty. When paramedics arrived at the Schiavo home at 5:52 that morning, they found Mrs. Schiavo in a state of ventricular fibrillation - an irregular heartbeat. You can't live in a state of "v-fib" longer than 15 or 20 minutes.

Nor can it be coincidental that Mr. Bush acted the day after an autopsy report knocked down many of the theories most cherished by those who questioned Mr. Schiavo's stewardship of his wife's medical care.

Had she been abused? No.

Did she react when she "saw" her parents? No. She was blind.

Was there hope of recovery? Dr. Jon Thogmartin, the medical examiner who led the autopsy team, was unequivocal. "No amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," he said.

But Mr. Bush would have us believe Mr. Schiavo, for some Machiavellian motive yet to be revealed, stood over his stricken wife for an hour before calling help.

What is it with Mr. Bush? Doesn't he have a government to run? Ribbons to cut, backs to slap? Does he need a hobby? Maybe a night job?

You'd think presiding over a state of 17 million citizens would be more than enough to keep a fellow out of the pool halls. But apparently, Mr. Bush has time on his hands.

I can understand the pain of Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, their inability to believe their daughter irretrievably gone, even their hostility toward the husband who made a decision they would not - likely, could not - make. But Mr. Bush's behavior has been simply inexcusable.

Not that he hasn't had accomplices. He's had plenty. From the Florida Legislature to Congress to the White House, arrogant and opportunistic lawmakers missed not a trick in the effort to substitute their judgment for that of Mrs. Schiavo's doctors and husband. Never mind that they undermined the U.S. Constitution, the judiciary and the whole concept of spousal rights in the process.

Pity Michael Schiavo. He's had his motives and character questioned at every step along the way, had to put up with calumnies flung by religious zealots and wild-eyed conspiracy theorists unable to believe that all he wanted to do was keep a promise to his wife.

But in some ways, the transparent emptiness, the self-evident pettiness, the very personal nature of this latest assault, especially coming when it does and from such a lofty office, makes it the lowest blow of all. It's a punch in the groin after the bell has rung.

Is Florida really such a paradise that the governor has time to indulge a vendetta against a single citizen? Did they clean up the Everglades without telling me? Fix the schools without issuing a memo?

Mr. Bush, if he has a shred of decency, should be ashamed of himself. He should apologize to Mr. Schiavo. And he should leave the poor man alone.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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