When lots of people get upset, when a large portion of the population gets pushed to their limit of what they will accept, you will find copious amounts of emotional protest; but not all of that is emotionally based thinking.
Even though sometimes it looks that way.
There are those who would like to shove the Schiavo-raised dilemmas into a burial plot along with the woman’s remains, now that it is obvious that she will die. These same voices are even now throwing out the warp and weft of their view that this has been an hypocritical Religious Right issue that, at best, was used to serve political goals. Sure, you’ve read them. But maybe now is a good time to break down the issues and the reasoning behind particular mores. Mores that on the surface look like conflicting or hypocritical approaches to one single answer.
The whole spectrum of euthanasia, abortion by choice, ‘right to die’, and medical rights and authority to make calls on interventions, all are bound by the ethics of life and death. What is life? Who has it? Who has rights to it? Who has power to sentence death? When is death inevitable?
These are the questions and they are all bound up in how our ethical beliefs are broken down along lines of how we think about the various parts of the question. Some of this is transcendent, but lots of how we judge ( because we are passing judgement by admission, commission, or omission) is based within the application of our social consensus. We decide as a society how things will be.
What are the impacts of the Schiavo case in each of these areas of social policy?
The more obtuse analogies
Two of the more obtuse applications I came across are “why bother about Terri Schiavo’s life when we send young men and women to war?” and the other accusation of hypocrisy: “you say Terri Schiavo has a right to life, but you agree to Capital punishment of the death penalty”.
I’m not going to argue a case of what I believe on either one, but to separate the issues ( because they are disparate) I will say this: the issues of Capital punishment, specifically the death penalty, and that of fighting wars are both issues of the need of the group against the needs or rights of the individual. It is considered a duty of sacrifice for ones country to fight in those conflicts that the representatives of the people deem necessary. The argument is on that basis- it is not whether we have the right to end a soldiers life. The soldiers have a different set of agreements they enter into with their country, than the role Terri Schiavo had. Death penalty for criminal acts is also different. Society deems it right to ask that one who had no respect for others lives and is held to have committed certain levels of acts against the lives of innocent others as having allowed forfeit of their own rights to life. Due process takes place within the publically advertised law.
For those who like philosophical quibbles over the word “innocence”, the idea in law is that unless you are found, through due process, to be guilty of specific crime, you are innocent. Practical, specific innocence, which Terri Schiavo qualified for.
More obvious questions
Is the right to life as defined by the abortion issue related to Terri’s rights? Yes, I have said before that there is similarity. The whole question here is whether the will of the group to do away with individuals on the basis of ‘burden’ or ‘nuisance’ is ethical. And this issue will fan out to eventually encompass the various handicaps of people, whether through age, debility of disease, or defect.
Many times the question is posed as “Do these people want to live?” when really what is being asked is “do we really want them to live?”
Do we want the burden?
The burden of a child…the burden of an aged mother…. the burden of a dying friend…. the burden of the mentally retarded.
As many needs of people as there are… there are burdens for the stronger of the society. And the question is not whether those people desire an existance, it is whether we will facilitate…or in the case of Terri, allow it.
We are come to a crossroads. But there are no signs here, and many people don’t realize that we are facing two very disparate choices in society. Probably because we have drifted along the one so obliviously.
There was an article recently that remarked upon the way the question has changed within the medical community. It used to be that patients argued for the right to decide against extreme medical measures, but now it is the ethics board, the doctors, and the courts who are often pitted against those who desire more of life. The ground has shifted and many are just now realizing that. Once we are well past the crossroads of making the policies now, we will find it difficult to track back.
I am more pessamistic than that. I believe it will be impossible. It will be as Churchill once decribed such conflicts of deep moral nature: you may find you have no hope of winning, but will stand your ground on what is right, and face the cost, even to the final one.