Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Terri Schiavo: an American tragedy

Our old friend over at The Great Pontificator has apparently shaken off his late-winter lethargy and begun posting again. He recently loaded a series of photos of the WTC post-9/11 wreckage under the topical heading “Lest we Forget”. Images like these should be seen, regularly. Unbelievably, the horrific reality of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country seem to be slipping from the public consciousness. That must not be allowed to happen.

He also has a fresh post on the subject of incremental thinking, using what he says are two recent glaring examples: the ridiculous Supreme Court ruling in Roper v. Simmons, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the prospect of oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve, in an area where, from the creation of the reserve, oil exploration was supposed to be permitted.

I think he missed probably the most egregious example of incrementalism, and that is the Terri Schiavo case.

I haven’t said anything about this matter because I honestly haven’t followed it closely enough to have a command of the facts. There are some elements that just plain make me feel queasy. The husband has, from what I gather, “moved on”, and actually started a family with another woman. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the law leaving Terri Schiavo’s fate in his hands in these circumstances. That is, however, apparently the state of the law in Florida. And there seems to be a real question as to her actual medical condition.

Predictably, some on the left have accused pro-life activists and their political allies and supporters of exploiting this case. I can understand pro-life advocates taking a position on this. What really baffles me is the knee-jerk reaction of leftists who see this as a political issue, and viciously argue in favor of her death. They clearly have no stake in the matter, other than as opponents of right-to-lifers.

Terri Schiavo has parents and supporters willing to assume all responsibility for her. What is the interest of her husband in seeing her starve to death? To “carry out her wish?” And what in the world can be the interest of leftists in this case? The celebratory tone of these people at the prospect of the “victory” resulting in her death is revolting. Her “quality of life” is, as I see it, none of their business. And quite frankly, most of the folks who are most strident about her condition or her wishes don’t know any more about it than I do. Which doesn’t stop them from knowing, with absolute and ignorant certainty, what’s right and best for her.

Where does this case tie in with incremental thought? In the span of less than one generation, the law has gone from Karen Ann Quinlan – parents who are not opposed by other close relatives can remove a “brain-dead” young woman from the heart and lung machine which artificially sustains her body’s basic functions – to Terri Schiavo – a husband who has already started a new family can withhold food from a woman who is not on a ventilator and does not appear to be “brain dead” , over the objections of her parents, who are willing to assume responsibility. I see unplugging a ventilator and withholding food as two very different propositions.

Law school professors, who are overwhelmingly social liberals, spend a good deal of time derisively explaining to students that the concept of the “slippery slope” is utter nonsense. The “slippery slope” is the idea that once courts enter a new area and begin making decisions, what’s next and where does it end? Social liberals want the courts, and government generally, to constantly enter new areas, and so they would prefer that the consequences not be thought of in terms of the “slippery slope”. It is much easier to sell the concept of removing a brain-dead person from a ventilator that the idea of starving to death someone who can no longer care for themselves. But as the Great Pontificator points out, incremental thought is pervasive in our way of life. And the slippery slope is both real and slippery.

So we start with Karen Ann Quinlan, begin talking about “preserving bodily functions by heroic means”, and move on to the idea that you can write a “living will”, a personal declaration of your wish not to be kept on a ventilator, then to the idea that you can execute a “health care power of attorney”, a written document that says you delegate authority to someone else to decide not to keep you on a ventilator, to Terri Schiavo. And a husband who clearly has a vested interest in seeing you die can decide to starve you to death while you’re not on a ventilator, and arguably not even brain-dead, and other relatives object and are willing to take responsibility.

We are clearly on an incremental path here. What’s next? I can starve my bedridden grandmother with advanced Alzheimer’s to death? I can decide to kill my severely disabled baby AFTER he is born? With all due respect to the law professors of the nation, you are full of crap. The slope is indeed slippery, and damned steep, too.

Incidentally, the Quinlan court was convinced by medical experts that Karen Ann would die quickly when removed from the ventilator. In fact, it was several years later that her heart finally ceased functioning on its own. I guess “expert” opinions are still just opinions.

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