October 25, 2003

More on what the road to hell is paved with

Reader Michelle Dulak sent me a link to Mickey Kaus' take on the Terri Schaivo case. Mr. Kaus has a stronger stomach than I -- he listens to NPR. Here is what he heard:

a) Melissa Block introducing Jon Hamilton's report and declaring that the governor's action "goes against more than two decades of legal and ethical decisionmaking."
b) A bioethicist who is "saddened" by the intervention to reinsert the feeding tube.
c) An explanation of "persistent vegetative state" from a neurologist who actually testified for the husband, Michael.
d) A representative of the American Medical Association who seems to support letting the husband decide.
e) Hamilton noting bioethicist (b)'s opinion that there is "little question the Florida legislature will eventually be overturned."

Here is part of his reaction:

Given the actual facts in the Schiavo case, I'm not sure which side I support. But I gag when NPR commentators glibly talk about upholding Terri Schiavo's "right to die" as if she herself had exercised that right--e.g. by writing a living will--as opposed to having her husband exercise that "right" for her when she's unable to contradict him.

I'm glad I am not the only one who noticed the pretense that Terri Schiavo is a conscious participant in this debate. The problem is, we are now in our culture so focused on the need for everyone's individual viewpoint to be important that we are incapable of dealing with someone who is... incapable of formulating an individual viewpoint. Unless they are babies or senile old people; we'll give in-duh-viduals a pass then. (Well, mostly.) But when confronted with a woman who is in what should be the prime of her life who is basically an infant, many people seem to go into a weird state of denial. The people who think she is better off dead seem (I say "seem" because I don't want to be accused of pretending to be a "mind-reader," but if I can't try to figure out human motivation from what I know and have observed, I may as well stop writing altogether) to be applying her case to their own lives and their own instinctive revulsion at the thought of being reduced to such a state.

There are what I will call evolutionary reasons behind the instinctive negative reaction that human beings have towards the weak and the helpless. Back in the good old days when we were small tribes of primitive humans wandering the African plains, having to tend to a crippled adult could be the difference between getting food and becoming food. Or was it? Some evidence suggests that the reasons humans evolved (if you believe humans evolved) into the dominant species is because we were physically (compared to the rest of the clawed and fanged animal kingdom) weak and helpless, so we had to grow bigger brains and figure out how to make tools and weapons to compensate. That being said, the problem of the strong both despising and exploiting the weak has been a problem throughout human history. The best of our culture has been the result of efforts to restrain this part of our nature. So what does it say about humanity when so many of us can look at a helpless person like Terri Schiavo, and condemn her to death for the crime of being useless? Because that is really the only reason I can see for people wanting her dead, once we strip away the self-protective verbiage about how "she couldn't possibly want to live this way," is the fact that she can't "contribute" to society in any way people feel is meaningful anymore. She can't be a wife or mother, she can't hold down a job; so she deserves to die. As Mr. Kaus points out, she isn't in any pain, and she isn't dying of a terminal disease (except for that terminal disease called "life"), so the only reason to kill her is because the very thought of her existence is a bummer to some.

Well, my pretties, she's not the only one in this condition. Why don't we kill all the vegetables? After all, it's unlikely that they will all wake up like this fellow did. And they are sucking up resources. (All that oxygen! You know everytime a braindead person breaths an African child faints. And those cans of Ensure could be saved for when our celebrities become senile. And all those people taking care of all those brain-dead relatives could be free to go on Mediterranean cruises or something.) So why don't we just pass a law that says if you get into a car accident, get sick, or sleep too long and someone attached electrodes to your brain and doesn't get a reading, off to the glue factory you go! After all, we have a Brave New World to build; we ain't got time for no gimps.

Update: here's some discussion on the law stuff behind this all. Visit while the Blowspot link works! And the first commenter noted something I hadn't thought to touch on (I can't do everything): the woman Michael Schiavo is with now wants to marry him why exactly? I sure hope she doesn't let him take out a life insurance policy on her.

Posted by Andrea Harris at October 25, 2003 12:42 PM

What gets me is the way the media conveniently ignores mentioning that her hubby is chomping at the bit to marry another woman.

It's not fun to be in his position, but he forfeits any sympathy from me on this ....

Posted by: rkb at October 25, 2003 at 09:04 PM

if we're allowed to kill people who aren't "contributing", can we add celebrities who do nothing but produce stupid crap and then whine about politics to the list?

or people who do nothing but take, and then complain that they don't get enough entitlements?

what about professional protesters? in my book, they don't contribute to society (not anything USEFUL, in my book).

oh, I've got a little list...

Posted by: ricki at October 27, 2003 at 10:05 AM

the people who support pulling the tube from someone who is not brain dead are perhaps in many cases the same people who supported sending Elian Gonzalez (whose mother lost her life bringing him to freedom) to live in a communist dictatorship where he has no rights and is the property not of his father but of the state - the ultimate form of child abuse. We know what Reno would have done if she had been elected.

Posted by: PALESTINE IS FRANNKENSTEIN at October 27, 2003 at 11:19 PM