Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why Conservatives Care About Terri Schiavo

I've caught enough "religious right"-ing over the past few weeks, to the point that I think it won't hurt to explain why conservatives, including those loathsome religious conservatives, bothered to intervene on Terri's behalf.

The key issue is who gets to speak on Terri's behalf when it comes to gleaning her desire to live (or die) were she to enter a persistent vegetative state.

Who Gets To Speak?
The spouse gets to speak for the other spouse, of course. But in this case, there were some issues, and new questions about the origins of Terri's brain injury emerged that called into question Michael Schiavo's objectivity as Terri's guardian. Evidence of abuse, a refusal to care for Terri after winning a substantial sum in a medical malpractice action, witness statements of callous treatment of his wife while in the hospice, starting a new family with another woman, and reversing prior statements that he would never want her to die of starvation led many to the conclusion that Michael had a significant conflict of interest in directing his disabled wife's medical treatment or lack thereof. Were he a doting and faithful husband, had he exhausted the malpractice proceeds on her care, had he allowed a complete and fair neurological workup leading to the conclusion he claims, I would have been in his corner. It would have been a very easy call, and those opposing him would be interlopers.

Her Desire To Live (Or Die)
There is no way to know what Terri's intent was or is regarding the situation in which she now finds herself, outside of hearsay from the Schiavos and Terri's friends and family. Florida law provides little guidance, as we saw. But when the intent is unclear, and there remains abiguity about whether she retains a life, we must err on the side of life. To do anything else is to presume that life unproductive is ipso facto life worth ending.

Persistent Vegetative State
There is evidence that Terri's personhood is gone. There is also evidence that it is not. Many of her movements are attributed to involuntary reflex movements. And some have claimed that she shows anticipatory reaction to being moved, and that she responds to communication and pain. She has been seen to resist reflexes to cooperate with examinations and is believed by some to be aware of her surroundings. But we really have no idea and never will. Michael Schiavo has prevented a full and complete workup of her condition.

But we cannot toss aside life simply because we have tired of loving it or caring for it, because we don't exactly understand what its purpose is, or because we may benefit from its expiration. Michael Schiavo appears to have done that. Terri has a right to live. The ambiguity must be resolved in favor of life, because you never get a second shot at it.

Of course, this reasoning requires an ethic in order to remain logically viable. The ethic, like it or not, is that God is real, he created people and retains dominion over our lives (whether we like/believe it or not), and he takes seriously the lives he gives us. Terri is an important creation, irrespective of her fragility or function. If she remains a conscious being, the matter of taking her life becomes very serious and not lightly dismissed. Michael Schiavo contends she's gone. As I've said before, I pray he's right. And as I said this morning, it seems he could be very wrong.

Conservatives are in this because the culture in which we live has developed a mind that regards inconvenient life as disposable life. And the ethic by which many conservatives live demands that life be treated with respect. At the close of World War II, we saw isolated camps across Europe that bore witness to what happens when life is easily discarded.

We're never going back there again if conservatives, and yes, those pesky "religious" ones too, have anything to say about it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just found your site today and have made you one of my favorites. I find your analysis well reasoned and well restrained.

However, I must disagree with you on one point. You say Terri may have lost her personhood. No, we cannot lose our personhood. We may lose our ability to think clearly. We may lose our ability to control our own limbs, but that does push us outside the community of persons.

This is not merely an issue of semantics. Once we allow a person to be defined by their abilities, or lack-thereof, we have opened the door wide for more careless interpretation, distortion, and abuse.

No, our personhood is tied only to our being human and nothing less. And that personhood is protected - "All men are created equal," we are guaranteed "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Once our personhood is taken away from us, so our protection under our laws.

And to be sure, no one will willingly renounce their personhood. No, it will taken from them.

5:13 PM  

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