Wednesday, March 30, 2005

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Back on the Blog

Sorry for my absence these last two days. Yes, I've been gone all Lent, but these were the only days I wasn't *supposed* to miss.

Anyway, there isn't much I can add to the enourmous commentary on Terri Schiavo's execution..."euthanasia" is a vile...euphemism for such killing, in her case or any other. But there is one thing that I think is important, which is the fact that this debate has centered around "rights". On the one side are specious claims about Terri's "right to die", as if death by dehydration were a sort of priviledge nobly granted by the laws of Florida. On the other hand there is the insistence on Terri's right to life.

While this "rights" talk is not flat-out wrong, I think that it is a bad way of looking at things. Speaking of "human rights" in such an unspecified manner, obscures the central fact that these "rights" only exist with reference to other men. If God decides that it's time for me to go, I do not have some sort of claim against Him. No doubt many conservatives would dismiss this point as obvious and needing no statement...but how many thousands of people reject the "God of the Old Testament," i.e. God, because He does not respect the "right to life" of Uzziah or the Canaanites or whoever? I know from personal experience that the idea, that we have some sort of absolute right to live (as opposed to a right not to be killed by other people) does truly encourage blasphemy and rejection of the Scriptures; I do not think it is a good idea to use it even in the furtherance of a good cause. And since the notion of "human rights" can only be properly elaborated with a cumbersome clause that this only applies in reference to other people, I think that it is practically an inadvisable way to phrase things. It also leads to the idea that the "right" is some sort of being, whereas it is in fact a law.

It is also misleading in its indictment of those who would kill her. It suggests that their failure is that they do not respect her. Many of them do not, but is that truly the main problem? The main problem is that people are arrogating to themselves the authority of deciding who lives and who dies. If you tell the "anti-tube" partisans that they do not respect her, this rebuke is unlikely to strike home, since many of do not despise her, and may feel some perverted compassion for her. But if you tell them that they are deciding for themselves what can only be decided by God (that a woman suffering from no illness, who could live for many many years, can be deprived of food and water until she is dead), perhaps some few of them would recognize their likeness.

After all, consider the appalling hubris of their rhetoric about "her mind is gone," etc. Even granting the diagnosis of her particular case, and even granting the "conclusions" of science on the nature of such cases in general (I remember Holmes's wise remark that he will accept the conclusions of science just as soon as science has concluded), all we really "know", then, is that she cannot think or perform any mental task to speak of, not even recognizing relatives, etc. Even if you furthermore grant that she cannot feel anything or perceive anything, and that all her apparent manifestations of both abilities are mere "reflex action" (and here, I think, we are stretching quite a bit), that does not mean that she, herself, is "gone". We are not either or thoughts or our perceptions, or to replace one thought with another would replace one "me" with another; we are rather the thing that thinks and perceives. So if Terri cannot think or perceive things, that does not mean that the being who once thought and perceived - Terri Schiavo - is not "there" anymore. And yet because she cannot perform some function, she can be killed?

Another thing that strikes me is the weird worship of the will that the enemies of Terri Schiavo share. When Robert P. George suggested that it didn't really matter whether Terri had "formed some conditional wish" to be killed if she were reduced to such a state as her present one, liberals and libertarians (whose distinction from liberals a rather fine one in my opinion) were appalled. "How can he not respect this woman's will?" For my part, the "how" seems rather easy. I have no qualms whatsoever about disregarding the wishes of other people, and doing it quite constantly at that, for the sensible reason that many of those wishes are stupid and perverse. If, because the wish is a good one, or because resisting the other person's will would be harmful to him or to another, or if there is some other sufficient reason to "go along" with the other person, then I should certainly do so. But the fact that a person wants something is not, of itself, a good reason for me to give it to them. If people only wanted things that were good for themselves and others, it would be a different story, but as it is...note, too, how appalled these people are at the Schindler's acting "for her own good", and not really insisting that it's "what she would have wanted" (though I doubt that they think she would not have wanted it - or does not want it now). Acting contrary to someone's wishes (for it is an article of faith for many disputants that Terri would not have wanted to live "like this" - the court determined as much, did it not?) "for their own good", by their lights, is not merely a noble idea that is frequently abused; it is automatically evil, unless the recipient meets some arbitrary standard of mental incompetence - and since Terri made her supposed wish while still competent, the matter is closed....

Anyway, I'd also like to welcome Boeciana of the linked blog, who - if I understand (his? Her? It sounds feminine, but unless there's some obscure Scottish folk hero/heroine of that name, the only interpretation I can dredge up for "Boeciana" is something like "writings of Boethius", which says much about literary interests, little about gender. But if you're a man, your cognomen is somewhat misleading for us non-erudite people!) anyway, if I understand Boeciana's comment correctly, Boeciana (aargh! Need pronoun!) became a Catholic this Easter - if so, well, I'm glad you're here! I entered the Church last Easter - I feel like I've been here all my life (which is true - not in the sense that I was a Catholic before I was a Catholic; more that this was when life began) and like I just joined (which is also true).

Anyway, it's way too late now for me to be up...or too early...and remember, always highlight your post and press ctrl-c before posting! Saves much hassle.