"Who will speak for Terri Schiavo now?" With these words, noted detective-turned-author Mark Fuhrman leaves the travesty of last spring’s starvation case lingering. But is the question—or even his entire book examining Terri’s demise through the lens of criminal investigative concerns—even necessary? Hasn’t enough ink been spilt already about the disabled woman whose cremated remains are now resting near a mockingly phrased marker in a Clearwater, Florida, cemetery?
In a word, no. When America itself takes to committing crimes against humanity, a moral cataclysm of worldwide proportions has taken place. After all, we were the ones who provided the impetus and the lead prosecutors for the Nuremburg Trials. When the meaning of german shepherds and armed policemen standing guard as the emaciated and marginalized agonizingly wither away is lost even on us, how much examination will it take to capture the significance of this turn of events?
Silent Witness is, therefore, a step in the right direction. While Fuhrman does not tackle the moral dimension directly, he does provide a fresh perspective that is of great value for anyone’s understanding of the American moral watershed that was Schiavo’s forced starvation. Just as certain things jump out at those of us who view Terri’s death through the pro-life prism, certain things jump out at Fuhrman because of his background as a detective. The facet he focuses on is as disturbing as any other: A crime against humanity is, in the first place, a crime.
"Despite all the attention her death has generated," he writes, "nobody seems to know exactly what happened to Terri Schiavo in the early morning hours of February 25, 1990. Some claim it was cardiac arrest brought on by a potassium imbalance that resulted from bulimia. Others suggest she was assaulted by [husband] Michael Schiavo. Where is the truth? However you feel about euthanasia or the right to life, if Terri’s initial injury was caused by violence or neglect, her death is now a homicide. And there are no statutes of limitation for that crime." The remainder of the book is dedicated to examining the various medical possibilities, and to putting Michael under the microscope as the "usual suspect" he probably should have been. Even for those of us who followed the case very closely, Fuhrman provides several ice cubes down the back: His comparisons between the behavior of Michael Schiavo and convicted spouse-killer Scott Peterson are particularly compelling.
The shortcomings of Fuhrman’s philosophical grasp of the situation are, on the other hand, almost too obvious to comment upon. Terri’s death was a homicide—a homicide of the viciously post-modern kind known as a "crime against humanity" —whether her "initial injury was caused by violence or neglect," or not. Fuhrman is to be commended for recognizing his limitations, however foggily, right up front. "I am not a religious man," he mentions in the introduction. "Very quickly I found that my police experience could not prepare me for the issues in this case that go beyond the question of how Terri Schiavo died. . . . My challenge in this book is to investigate Terri’s collapse and her subsequent death using the same detective tools I would in any other case—the timeline, witness statements, medical evidence—without forgetting that her death affected us all, in ways we don’t even yet realize."
So, who will speak for Terri Schiavo now—now that hurricanes and Supreme Court vacancies have swept her so hurriedly from the headlines? Those of us who do grasp some of the "issues in the case that go beyond the question of how Terri Schiavo died" understand that capitulatory silence is not an option. Those who pick up Silent Witness will be the better prepared to defend all the other potential Terris out there.
- Helen M. Valois, M.I. (from Lay Witness magazine. www.cuf.org)
You can purchase this book here.