Terri Schiavo's parents turned her death into a three-ring circus. We don't question their love for their daughter and their grief at her passing, but one has to wonder why they allowed everyone from Randall Terry to Tom DeLay to Jesse Jackson to intrude into their family's tragedy. Robert and Mary Schindler did not protest as fringe right-to-life groups exploited their daughter's image. They generated a sad, made-for-cable-TV spectacle and fed it with edited video footage from their daughter's hospice bed and sinister accusations about Michael Schiavo.
In the last few days, the Schindlers also agreed to allow some of their dubious allies to cash in on their daughter's brain damage. The Schindlers agreed to allow a conservative direct-marketing firm to sell lists of those who had sent them money. In exchange, donations would be solicited for the family's battle, according to news reports. The Schindlers' own foundation also solicited credit-card donations for their cause on the Internet, though until a few weeks ago it was not legally registered to do so and had not reported its donations.
A group of conservative foundations has contributed, according to some reports, hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Schindlers' vain effort to keep their uncomprehending daughter's feeding tube from being removed. Some of those groups now might be able to use the Schindler list to seek funds for their other causes, primarily anti-abortion. Such circularity of fundraising is not confined to social conservatives, as most families' junk-mail baskets would show. This is just more ghoulish than usual.
The case entailed a disagreement between husband and parents about what Terri Schiavo would have wanted in this situation, and courts over the years all found Michael Schiavo's testimony credible. Activist lawmakers who improperly interceded on the parents' behalf to try to hijack legal proceedings should feel chastened. Public opinion polls all show that Americans found their behavior reprehensible. President Bush's dramatic flight back to Washington from his ranch to sign a ludicrous law trying to force federal courts to take on the Schiavo case was a national embarrassment.
All this pandering to their social conservative base didn't even immunize activist Republicans from being attacked from the right. That's because you don't placate extremists by bending constitutional principles once or twice -- that only encourages them to expect you to finish tearing up the Constitution on their behalf.
After his brother in Washington had moved on, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush maneuvered up to the end, trying to get custody of the daughter transferred to her parents. When the Bush brothers shied away from more radical action, the message on a demonstrator's sign outside Schiavo's hospice summed up the hostile reaction: "Barbara Bush are you proud of your sons now?"
Terri Schiavo could not have been aware of the uses made of her image while she was alive. But with her death, those video snippets of a lipsticked mouth and eyes seeming to gaze upward will still be raising money for someone.