Selling Terri Schiavo: The Religious Right's Latest Outrage

Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whom the Religious Right has fought to keep alive against her husband's will, isn't dead yet - but already right-wing groups are using her to make money.

The New York Times reported March 28 that Schiavo's parents have authorized a conservative direct-mail marketing firm "to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups."

Response Unlimited, the marketing firm handling the list, has already begun promoting it to "pro-family" organizations that might want to buy the names on it.

A description of the list notes that Schiavo's father, Robert Schindler, has spear-headed efforts to keep his daughter on a feeding tube, efforts that attracted the attention of the anti-abortion community.

"These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler's legal battle to keep Terri's estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri," reads the description of the list on the website of Response Unlimited. "These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!"

The firm is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Schindler.

The Times reported that Phil Sheldon, son of Religious Right leader the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, helped broker the sale of the list. Sheldon is co-founder of a conservative organization called www.RightMarch.com, which describes itself as a conservative answer to the liberal website www.moveon.org.

RightMarch's website says the group is "a conservative organization dedicated to giving hundreds of thousands of hardworking, patriotic Americans across the country a strong collective voice in the political process."

At the same time he was helping sell the list, Phil Sheldon was also sending out appeals on behalf of RightMarch, claiming that the money raised would help with last-ditch efforts to keep Schiavo alive.

"This time, we have a real chance to break through the 'roadblocks' that the enemies of life have been putting up in front of us," read one appeal. "We're asking you to give a donation to help with our activism efforts to save Terri's life. Battles cost money; resources cost money; media costs money; we could go on, but you get the picture."

Lou Sheldon has no intention of missing any of the action himself. In a recent e-mail message to supporters, the elder Sheldon urged his backers to contact Congress - and send the Traditional Values Coalition a donation.

"What this issue has done is it has galvanized people the way nothing could have done in an off-election year," Lou Sheldon told The Times. "That is what I see as the blessing that dear Terri's life is offering to the conservative Christian movement in America."

The Times noted that TVC's website contains a photo of Schiavo headlined, "Help Save Terri Schiavo's Life!" Next to it "is a pitch to 'become an active supporter of the Traditional Values Coalition by pledging a monthly gift.'"

Ironically, throughout this protracted battle, some Religious Right groups have accused Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo's husband, of wanting her to die so he could get his hands on several hundred thousand dollars that is currently in a trust fund. (The money stems from a successful malpractice lawsuit Michael Schiavo filed on Terri Schiavo's behalf.) Michael Schiavo has denied any interest in the money and says his main goal it to carry out his wife's wishes. She told him, he has stated, that she would never have wanted to live in a persistent vegetative state.

Through its tasteless efforts at exploiting the tragedy of Terri Schiavo for fund-raising, it is the Religious Right, which is usually so eager to claim the moral high ground and be judgmental of others, that has shown itself to be utterly bereft of simple human decency.

Ultimately, a corrosive form of cynicism is bred.

"I think it's amusing," Robert Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant told The Times. "I think it's absolutely classic America. Everything is for sale in America, every type of personal information."