Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 25, 2005

Feminists, Burqas, and Terri Schiavo

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:59 pm

Romaryka at Incidents and Accidents has a very compelling post about the issues and uncertainties in the Schiavo case, and the role of faith in forming people’s opinions on the issue. In passing, and perhaps without quite meaning to (incidentally and accidentally?), she explains why this case is so newsworthy, and is attracting so much more attention that other events in which many more lives are at stake:

[S]tarving her to death is not the answer. As I type that sentence I find myself marveling at the fact that I am sitting before my computer, in North America, in 2005, putting that thought into words. That I live in a nation whose legal system has been vaunted and studied and flaunted as a model before the rest of the world, and yet it actually comes down to the country’s populace and representation taking sides on the ethics of starving a woman to death.

(Emphasis in the original.)

She also points out one of the major (apparent?) hypocrisies this case has brought out into the open:

In one women’s studies class I read an article about the plight of women under the Taliban, and the headline was “Afghan Woman Stoned to Death For Not Wearing Veil.” I have read about human-rights violations, specifically against women, the world over, and the stories incite the international community to start letter-writing campaigns and hold peaceful vigils. We all seem to agree, with varying degrees of activity or involvement, that these global incidents are abominations. Here’s a headline : “American Woman Starved to Death For Having Brain Damage.” Where are the global activists? Where are the feminists? What happens the next time a husband decides he wants the courts to help his wife die?

And why this case is so important, going far beyond the life of one woman or one family:

Don’t imagine this case doesn’t set a precedent. Once we start deciding who deserves to live and who doesn’t, where do we stop? How do we stop? Part of my silence [up to now] on the issue, aside from not knowing quite what to believe with all the strong words out there, has come from sheer disbelief that we have come to this.

But we have. And I will probably horrify her by quoting this individual in response (and I wouldn’t mention his name except for the obligation to give credit where credit is due), but Rush Limbaugh once said in a simlar context: “Once we start to decide who lives and who dies based on convenience to the living, there is no end to it.”

And indeed there is not. We will soon — perhaps very soon — see people put to death because caring for them is “too expensive,” regardless of their wished or their families’ wishes, and perhaps even regardless of their willingness to pay those costs. We have already seen a 6-month-old pulled off a ventilator over his parents’ objections in part due to costs, a man nearly pulled off a feeding tube and ventilator over his wife’s objections, and serious proposals for killing newborns found to have hemophilia, an inconvenient — but non-debilitating and often non-fatal — disease.

As far back as 1984, then-Governor of Colorado Richard Lamm said that older people have “a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts — and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” His policy proposal is that after a certain age, people shouldn’t get any health care. Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times said essentially the same thing.

In the past few decades, we have gone from an so-obvious-it’s-unspoken consensus on preserving life, to allowing DNRs and “living [that is, dying] wills” for people with terminal and painful diseases, to DNRs and “living wills” for people with non-terminal but painful diseases, to routinely killing newborns (not to mention aborting fetuses) found to be “defective” and old people — or even not-so-old people — found to be neither terminal nor in pain, but unable to express their wishes to the contrary. (And some people who have expressed their wishes to the contrary are sedated to make sure they express those wishes again.)

When my wife and I were discussing this a few days ago, she — who always oppsed so-called “slippery slope” arguments said, “It really is a slippery slope.” If so, we’ve already slipped all the way down to the bottom and have begun to dig. It is only a matter of time until courts and hospital “ethics” committees routinely decide who lives and who dies, without regard to the wishes of the patient or any members of the patient’s family. They will evaluate your “quality of life” and decide whether you are worth taking up a spot on the planet. In the Schiavo case, they are purporting to take her wishes into account, and are actually choosing the wishes of her husband over all her other family members. But that’s this time. In other cases, they ignore the family’s wishes as well, and soon this will become routine.

One Response to “Feminists, Burqas, and Terri Schiavo”

  1. David V. Says:

    Saving Schiavo’s Soul

    The ongoing debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo is a revealing example of the differences between a secular and a religious world view. Those who advocate that Terry be kept alive and those supporting her right to die have two very different conceptions of the soul. The difference is crucial because differences in their metaphysical views have significant ethical and political implications.

    According to the secular philosophy, the soul is the essence of who an individual is – the essence of his character, and the motive force of his actions. It is a unique trait of human beings, who are able to guide their own actions and their course in life through the exercise of their conceptual consciousness. Because the mind is a consequence of the process of the brain, the soul is also made possible by the biological processes of the human body and cannot exist without it. Life, in the secular philosophy, is a process of acting on values of one’s choosing, and happiness is the consequence of their successful accomplishment. This goes on until one cannot or does not choose to engage in the process of value-pursuit and dies.

    According to the religious philosophy, the soul is a spiritual entity, separable from the body, and exists in some non-material realm apart from the material world. According to this philosophy, the soul is an immortal entity temporarily attached to a physical body by the whim of an all-powerful being. Since the soul does not “belong” to the mortal being, it comes with certain conditions, usually whatever the local mystics deem to be proper. According to the religious philosophy, a moral life consists of dutifully following the commandments of a higher being in order to make one’s soul less susceptible to misery in a future state of existence, such as heaven, Valhalla, or an afterlife. Since the choice to live is not up to mortal humans to make, the choice to die cannot be either, since their soul and thus their life does not belong to them. Furthermore, the end of mental activity does not mean the death of the soul, which remains trapped in the body as long as it is biologically alive, just as an fetus possesses a soul prior to developing a conceptual consciousness.

    The vast difference and the ethical implications of these world views should be clear. In the secular philosophy, man has a “self-made soul” that he shapes and that shapes his life. In the mystic philosophy, man is granted his soul by a god and must obey that deity or expose the soul to “eternal damnation” in the beyond. Religious groups oppose the right to die for the same reason that they oppose happiness as the ultimate moral end: it represents a threat to their conception of human nature.

    Terri Schiavo is not an isolated case, as lawmakers claimed when they blatantly disregarded the Constitution and federalism in an attempt to preserve her body – it is an example of the same reasoning they use to oppose the right to die and abortion. It is a reasoning that denies the essential difference between human beings and carrots on a mental and physical level and claims instead that the difference exists in some unreachable, imperceptible, and unknowable realm. It is no wonder then, why they must resort to force to bully their beliefs on those who live their lives for a this-worldly purpose.

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