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Saturday, December 23, 2006

I was reading Reason magazine online yesterday, and it made me mad. (Reason magazine is published by people who call themselves "libertarians"--advocates of largely unregulated capitalism, personal liberty, and a radically smaller federal government.) I don't disagree with Reason much, as my friends know. But this opinion concerned Terri Schiavo. You remember her, the severely disabled Florida woman who was at the center of a battle to remove her feeding tube, because she was allegedly brain-dead. I saw video footage of Terri--some current, some from several years back. I can't escape my initial reaction: "She looks alive to me." And I can't see the argument that she wasn't alive, nor that her 'quality of life' was so poor that we're saving her and ourselves pain and trouble by ending her life. I thought the Roman Catholic teaching on life and death was especially on-point here--embodied in a homily by (I think) the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado. He said that removing a feeding tube was an extra step beyond letting life take a natural course unto death (such as removing a ventilator) and would be the taking of a life. There are many people who have to eat in creative ways--why is this unique? None of us would live without food. Plenty of us breathe without assistance. Terri Schiavo did. I don't know if it is a betrayal of libertarian political philosophy that the US Congress intervened to prevent the removal of the feeding tube. I do believe that removing it was wrong, and I do sympathize with, and support, those who opposed its removal. I don't care if, as the piece suggested, it cost the Republicans their congressional majorities, or that it cost President Bush his sky-high approval ratings at the time. It was right to err on the side of life, of humility. It was right to affirm that God determines when we live or die, not us, with our subjective ideas about when life is "worth living." Dr. Kevorkian got paroled yesterday. If it was moral to deny food to Terri Schiavo because people (courts, Mr. Schiavo, etc) were able to rightly able to discern the value of her life at that time (allegedly zero), it was also moral for Dr. Kevorkian to help people end their lives, if this logic holds. But remember the outrage against Kevorkian? The entire nation was united in its condemnation. Why? You tell me, world. What is the difference between a man determining the value of a life, helping to end it, and another man who does the same for his wife? Kevorkian still belongs in prison, and so does Michael Schiavo. There's no difference at all. In fact, Kevorkian has more mitigating factors than Schiavo and the Florida courts, in that he claimed to obtain consent from patients. (Still wrong.) But we're hypocrites for pretending that one belongs in jail and the other should be hailed for protecting his wife from religious zealots by killing her.
She's long gone, and I'm still mad about it. Sorry if that puts me outside the mainstream, or makes me a zealot. Indeed, you could make the argument, consistent with limited government, that the state of Florida abrogated its responsibility to protect one of its own citizens under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, thereby compelling the US government to intervene. The same constitutional rationale undergirded integration in the South in the Civil Rights Era, when assorted state officials violated the rights of Americans, then attempted to hide behind 'federalism' and limited government. That is, a state's power ceases when it violates the rights of citizens. And the national government, entrusted with those same responsibilities of safeguarding citizens' rights, may exercise power when others fail.