The first part might be a little exaggerated, but I do hold Rick Santorum, who was then a Senator from our home state of Pennsylvania and Jeb Bush, who was then Governor of Florida where my mother resided at the time of her death, directly responsible for creating the circus atmosphere that surrounded the Teri Schiavo case. It made my Mother fear that if she allowed the doctors to hook her up to a machine that her wishes as to when the machines should be turned off would not be respected.
My Grandfather, Harvey Garfield Berkhouse, Photo from Wilson Family Collection
My maternal grandfather died in 1964. I was fourteen years old. That was the start of many family conversations about what family members wanted in regard to end of life decisions. My Mother was very clear that she wanted to be cremated and did not want to be hooked up to life support machines. I remember one particular conservation in which my Mother felt that we weren’t being serious enough, because she said, “You don’t have to listen to me, but if there is a way back after death, I’ll find it, and, if you haven’t carried out my requests, you will regret it!”
My Mother and myself at the beach in Avalon, New Jersey, Photo from Wilson Family Collection
There aren’t words strong enough to describe how upset my Mother was when the Terri Schiavo case became state and national news. She made us even more aware of her wishes not to be hooked up to machines for life support. We promised that we would never allow that to happen. That promise was an intensely private moment in our case, and should have been in the Schiavo case, but the fact that there were politicians willing to exploit that decision for their own personal gains was despicable.
My parents’ wedding, December 29, 1941. Photo from Wilson Family Collection
But in Santorum’s case nothing has changed, he is still willing to put his own “theology” above intensely private personal decisions. The only thing he knows about my marriage is the gender of my husband, yet he is willing to sacrifice it on the altar of political expediency to get him the label of “true” conservative. He doesn’t know about my 25 year relationship with husband, and the journey we have taken from domestic partners( San Francisco February 14,1991), to legally married (San Francisco June 18, 2008).
Bill and Fernando’s wedding at City Hall, February 12, 2004, Photo from Wilson Family Collection
Because of the vision of Gavin Newsom I was able to call my Mother on February 12, 2004 and tell her Fernando and I were married. I will always be grateful for that day because six months later my Mother passed away. She had an infection and the doctor put her on an antibiotic that made it impossible for her keep food down. The doctor told her he would put her in the hospital and she would get nutrition for a week through IV and then they would try another drug. My Mother refused. She didn’t think she would be able to stop the IV feeding once it had been started and certainly the media hoopla and political interventions in the Schiavo case didn’t make it possible to convince her otherwise. So about a week later my Mother passed away. Yes, I believe that at 84 she probably had a few more good years ahead of her if she had followed the doctor’s orders, but unlike Santorum, I can’t make personal decisions for others. I know that we succeeded in carrying out my Mother’s wishes. I know it was the right thing to do. I know marrying Fernando was the right thing to do. I am really getting tired of politicians who tell me otherwise.
My Mother, Virginia Mae Berkhouse Wilson, died July 3, 2004, Photo from Wilson Family Collection