SOME years ago I had to decide whether to ask that th respirator that was keeping my 85-year-old mother alive be turned off. I did ask. She died. The decision was painful. It was not difficult.
Mom had made her wishes clear in a living will, and her body's systems were misfiring randomly and shutting down one by one. Postponing death meant needless, if only subconscious, torment for her.
As unpleasant as all that was, I can't even imagine how much more traumatic it would have been if a grandstanding governor and state legislator had forced me to fight in the courts for the right to make a decision that state law permits.
That's the horror Michele Finn found herself in in Virginia when she decided to have the feeding tube removed from her husband, Hugh, who doctors agree has been in a "persistent vegetative state" since an automobile accident three and a half years ago.
Let's assume Gov. James S. Gilmore III and state legislator Robert G. Marshall are sincere in believing what's afoot here is the euthanasia they oppose as a companion violator of their anti-abortion principles. But even if honestly motivated, their intrusions can't be separated from their political context.
Michele and Hugh Finn and their families have become unwitting shuttlecocks in the battering back-and-forth of our open-ended and fiercely politicized culture war.
Mr. Gilmore isn't an eager ideological belligerent like his predecessor, fellow Republican George Allen, but as a conservative, his deference to the party's doctrinaire right is continuing. As attorney general, he joined efforts to overturn the NTC Brady gun-control bill, fought pollution regulations, ended a ban against public school buses carrying religious-school pupils and argued against homosexual rights.
Mr. Gilmore's inauguration this year found the hard-right Oliver North in the dignitaries' box, along with religious-right heavies Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Mr. Robertson has contributed $50,000 to Gilmore campaigns.
Now Mr. Gilmore has twice hauled Michele Finn into state courts in an attempt to keep her husband technically alive, and the demonstrators, marching outside the nursing home, have abused her with nastiness like "Michele: Will You Eat While Hugh Starves?" The insensitivity to the living of supposedly pro-life zealots continues to astound, though it no longer should surprise.
In Congress and in the statehouses, anti-abortion and allied cultural throwbacks are pressing in dozens of small -- but cumulatively important -- ways to invade the most intimate sexual and other life issues of ordinary, unoffending Americans.
The Finns were spotted as a target of opportunity at a time when the family's privacy should have been counted virtually sacred. But, hey, you've got to put points on the political scoreboard when you can.
Tom Teepen is national correspondent for Cox Newspapers. His e-mail address: teepencolumnoxnews.com.
Pub Date: 10/06/98