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October 22, 2003
Power Line on Terri Schiavo

The Big Trunk excerpts at length from an article in the Wall Street Journal by David Gelernter regarding the Terri Schiavo case. Gelernter sums up the case quite accurately:

The death-by-starvation facing Terri Schiavo was averted yesterday when the Florida legislature passed a bill letting Gov. Jeb Bush intervene to save her life. Mrs. Schiavo has been severely mentally disabled since her heart stopped for a time in 1990. Although doctors have called her condition 'vegetative,' she breathes on her own, her eyes are open and in video clips she appears to respond with smiles to the sound of her mother's voice. That is one ground on which her parents have pleaded with authorities to let their daughter live. But last week her husband ordered her feeding tube removed, and until the legislature acted, Gov. Bush had no authority to override Michael Schiavo's decision.

Gelernter is highly critical of Mr. Schiavo's actions in trying to cut off all life-supporting therapies in order to terminate her life. He claims that she had expressed her desire to be free of such "heroic" medical intervention in case she was ever in the position she is now. Her parents dispute this and believe that she has some awareness of her surroundings and responds to stimuli, including their visits. Because Mr. Schiavo is the legal next of kin, he had the authority to order the removal of medical intervention, until the Florida legislature intervened itself and gave Jeb Bush the authority to reverse that decision, akin to a stay of execution of criminals.

The Schiavo case is heartbreaking, to be sure. There are accusations on both sides, notably against the husband, who is said to covet both the remainder of a legal judgment and another woman, which calls his testimony regarding his wife's state of mind into question. If nothing else, this should convince people who do not want heroic intervention to hasten to their lawyers' offices and establish a Living Will, which has legal weight and testifies incontrovertibly to your state of mind.

That being said, and without attempting to paint either side as evil or greedy, Gelernter has a good point in his essay; we are too quick to dispose of life, and not just at a particular stage, either. What Gelernter says in Big Trunk's excerpt is that the wholesale legalization of abortion has numbed us to the value of life:

"Who would have believed when the Supreme Court legalized abortion that, one generation later, only one, America would have come to this? Mrs. Schiavo's parents wanting her to live, pleading for her to live, the state saying no, and a meeting of the legislature required to pry the executioner's fingers from the victim's throat? I would never have made such an argument when the abortion decision came down, and I would never have believed it. I still can't believe it. Is this America? Do I wake or sleep?"

I believe Gelernter has it backwards. I believe that we became numb to the value of human life and so then supported widespread abortion, as well as capital punishment, assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. That there are arguments, good arguments, to made on behalf of all of these to some extent is not in dispute. There are good arguments to be made for a lot of bad policy decisions based on honest and heartfelt beliefs and experience. It doesn't make the outcome any less wrong. The saying "Life is cheap" is so common and trite that is has become essentially meaningless, but was it always thus? I don't believe so, although capital punishment has certainly been around long enough. I think that in the post-Holocaust, post-nuclear world, we began to accept a fundamentally nihilistic and existential view of life. Nothing mattered when you could have 6 million people die in camps without even hearing about it until years later. Life meant nothing under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Once you accept these as everyday truths, then the litany of life-destroying policies makes sense and sounds perfectly reasonable.

Please read Big Trunk's post and Gelernter's views anyway. I don't want to criticize Michael Schiavo's decision in particular, but the application to our society in general.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 22, 2003 12:46 PM

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