I'd half-promised myself I wasn't going to write about the Schiavo case, because I don't think there's much I could add to the discussion that hasn't been said already. However, I have noticed something interesting that I haven't seen mentioned, something which links up with other things I've noticed with regard to both the Republicans and the so-called "Culture of Life" crowd* that they pander to.
The thing that I noticed is the oddness of the language used to refer to the living body of Mrs. Schiavo. It is relentlessly infantilizing. It's never "Mrs. Schiavo," but always "Terri." It's never "the Schindlers' daughter," but "their child." Even when terms appropriate to adults are used, they are modified in this direction; thus we have the spectacle of politicians using the phrase "young woman" even though the body they refer to is 41 years old.
The language used also tends to reinforce the notion that this breathing body is still the person who was Terri Schiavo before the damage occurred. (In fact, it's very difficult to not fall into this rhetorical pit; the temptation to write about "Terri" rather than "Terri's body" is pretty overwhelming.) This sort of reframing carries with it some dangerous implications, implications which I'm fairly certain the Culture of Life folks are aware of. That is, if a body with no conscious mind or independent will, a body that is dependent on the continued support of others for its survival, can be called a "person," but living conscious creatures like cats or gorillas cannot, it becomes clear that the essential defining qualities of personhood are "possessing human DNA" and "alive."
The implications with regards to abortion and stem cell research are pretty obvious. (Not so obvious are the implications with regards to other forms of legal personhood, like that granted to corporations. Oddly, none of these people seem troubled by this, even though it is potentially more problematic.) By this logic, a fetus is a person, an embryo is a person, a blastocyst is a person, and even an unfertilized egg or sperm cell is a person. (Yet, weirdly, a finger or toe isn't a person. Clearly, there are limits, but it's not clear to me why they've been set.)
Another parallel to the subject of abortion is the way that the aforementioned fetuses, embryos, and blastocysts are referred to as "babies." As is the case with Mrs. Schiavo's body, it is easier to drum up sympathy by using language that evokes the helpless, vulnerable -- and cute -- child. Yet this is not merely a PR campaign; this rhetoric is not deployed cynically by the core of the movement -- they do honestly believe that these underdeveloped human creatures are the same things as independent human infants.
This in turn raises the question, often asked by irritated opponents, of why, if they are so "pro-baby" when they talk about the unborn, they falter when it comes to addressing the needs of actual children (or their parents) after birth.
The answer, I am coming to believe, is that it is not the physical aspects of infancy that appeals to or concerns these people. It is the idea of infancy, particularly the aspects of it that relate to dependency and lack of free will. The ideal child, under this formulation, is one that is quiet, obedient, worships its parents, and never questions them. Mrs. Schiavo, like a fetus, is a "perfect" child; helpless, dependent, unable to talk back, unable to challenge her parents' delusions about her and their future together.
Actual children, however, have minds of their own. They cry. They yell. They knock things over. They question. They yell at their parents. They make friends and form relationships outside the parent-child bond. Eventually, even, they will develop relationships that will replace those parental ones, as the parents die and the former children become parents themselves. Worse, they may do so in ways that show that they no longer view their parents as the center of the world, their parents' ideas as unquestioned truth.
The irony, of course, is that these people, and the politicians who are their symbiotes, like to view themselves as the wise, knowing adults in this idealized world. But they are not. Critics like to dismiss them as "sheep" but a better description would be "spoiled children." This is why they are so quick to attack, so thin-skinned when challenged, so impervious to logic and reason. This is why they bully those weaker or less powerful than themselves. This is why the existence of independent-minded, intelligent people who think for themselves is so threatening; not only do such people refuse to play the role of obedient children, they threaten to take over the role of all-knowing parent for themselves. (And when these independent, thoughtful people are teachers in charge of children, or actual parents, watch out!**)
I don't know how one begins to address this dynamic. But I think being aware of it is a good place to start.
*For a devastating exposure of the ways this "Culture of Life" is anything but, go take a look at the series of posts Lauren's been making over at feministe.
**This dynamic is particularly easy to observe in the behavior of rightwing trolls, as Scrivener has had the misfortune to discover.