Fat Middle-Aged Wannabe

This is an occasional blog exploring spiritual matters.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

More Thoughts on Terri Shiavo

I thought that this post by David Brooks in the New York Times was interesting. As always, I believe that he misstates the liberal case, but in this instance not by a whole lot. Trying to define who should be allowed to die seems like trying to define pornography: we know it when we see it, but we can't define it. And that puts those who believe that not all cells with human DNA in them constitute "sacred" life at a BIG disadvantage. The nice thing about being a conservative on this issue is that you can just say "life begins at conception, and after that if it looks like a human it is," and be done with it. It's pretty obvious to everyone who thinks about it that this position errs on the side of life, and of course that's the point.

The question is, what does that error cost us? In the case of Terri Shiavo, one can only speculate. If she actually is concious in a way that any of us would recognize, I can't imagine a worse fate for any human: she is locked in a solitary confinement more complete and final than anything to be found in the worst prison on earth. Forcing a "real" human to suffer such punishment would be considered cruel and unusual punishment by most everybody, and yet we have forced Terri Shiavo to suffer it for fifteen years. About 5000 days. A very long time. Why do we allow this? Because the only way that anyone knows to free her is to allow her to die and we have not, as a species, come to a concensus of when that is OK. Why do we consider it "inhumane" to allow a dog, or a cat, or a horse to undergo this kind of suffering, but positively necessary to force humans to undergo it? And remember, we have been forcing Terri Shiavo to go through this - she has had no means by which to stop us. If you're wondering what this might be like, you could try reading "Johnny got his Gun," by Dalton Trumbo. There are some excerpts here.

What if Terri Shiavo is not conscious in a recongnizably human way? I.e., what if we could all agree that she was aware, but that her level of self-awareness was at or below that of a dog or a cow? Then would it be OK to let her die? Would it be OK to euthanize her, as most people would do without hesitation for a dog or a cow? The thought of that makes even liberals wince (yes, it's true, all you conservatives out there). But would it be OK to force her to live? Even dogs feel pain, and most people I know would consider it inhumane to force a dog to live under the conditions that Terri Shiavo is living under.

Finally, what if Terri Shiavo really is brain dead, and feels nothing at all? In this case I think that we can all agree that there is no moral reason not to keep her alive - it costs us nothing but money. But of course in this case we can probably all agree that there is also no reason not to let her body die.

For sure there are no "good" options here. There is only the least bad option. This is a basic fact about the "right to life" debate that most "right-to-lifers" seem to ignore. They pretend that choosing life is always a good choice. It may always be the right choice, but it is certainly not always a good choice.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Xpatriated Texan said...

On the whole, I like your post. It is well written and very compassionate from all angles. After all the hysterical screaming about this woman, it's always nice for someone to remember that it's about a person.

Your position that choosing life is always right but not always good is going to be very difficult to use as a guide. If you have a choice between being right and being good, which do you choose?

I blogged on the hipocracy of both sides. Those that think she should die should be pushing for a humane and quick death. Those that think that life should be defended at all costs should look beyond the immediate case - they should push for stem cell research to restore her to her full capacity and defend the rights of everyone else who is being denied health care.

It is a difficult issue. My personal feeling is that it should be left in the hands of those she loved. It should never have become a federal case.



Post a Comment

<< Home