Friday, March 18, 2005

Looks Like We May Have Lost This One

Terry Schiavo's feeding tube has been removed:

A spokesperson for Michael Schiavo says Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed Friday.


Schiavo is expected to be able to live a week to 10 days without her feeding tube.
There are some last-minute attempts at stopping this, but it looks like governmental remedies have been exhausted. There is always a possibility of a miracle of course, but short of that her death seems inevitable. Sometimes the good guys lose, even given the power of blogs.

Here are a couple of things I think we should take away from this, in the interest of understanding what happened and possibly in order to prevent its happening again:

This is in some sense an inevitable outcome of the death with dignity argument. Once we acceded to the notion that not life itself but quality of life is the ultimate value, it became impossible to avoid the loss of innocent life in the interest of mercy or dignity.

We could have delayed this by legislating that only in the case of a living will could an unconscious patient's life be terminated -- and, indeed, there are such laws -- but any such legislation survives at the sufferance of the interpreting judiciary. If we allow the issue to be framed as a matter of denying a patient's right to die, the judiciary will inevitably feel itself duty-bound to nullify any merely statutory legislation. In fact that is the sense of these comments by Michael Schiavo's lawyer:
"What we experienced today in the subpoena issued by the United States House of Representatives is nothing short of thuggery [...] It is absolutely shocking that according to the House of Representatives, any committee member or subcommittee member can issue a subpoena directed to any American forcing them to have medical treatment to have medical treatment against their will."
Thus evil becomes good and good becomes evil. Losing the moral high-ground is not merely an academic exercise. It is a matter of life and death, as we see here.

We talk about euthanasia and abortion as being part of a culture war, but we are not fighting it as if it were a war. From my perspective it seems more like a playground brawl where the stakes are not very high and we can afford to take a shot whenever we see an opening. But this is not the way to win a war. If the latter is our goal we must take a longer-term, strategic view. This entails controlling the institutions of cultural creation, the churches and the schools, and restraining the power of the courts. Nothing else matters. It is true that journalism and the arts/entertainment industry have a significant impact on culture but they are ultimately secondary. They transmit culture but they do not create it

Looking around I see little concerted effort in these areas. To be sure there are several groups that focus on these three strategic institutions, but they are generally perceived as having less urgency than saving a particular life or protesting a particular law or judicial decision. But if I am right, many more bad laws will be passed due to our lack of strategy and that will ultimately result in many more lives lost (to say nothing of lost souls).

I don't want to disparage the efforts of those who have worked on behalf of Mrs. Schiavo since every life is precious. But in the big picture, if it hadn't been Terri, it would have been someone else. Focusing on such activities may be necessary in emergencies, but we must view it in military terms as akin to charging up San Juan Hill. It may serve as a rallying point, but it also invites counter-attacks and if we are not careful we can end up losing more ground than we gained.

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