Now, this is interesting, with references to Aristotle and Descartes, among others. This could have been a story on the self-destruction of the Enlightenment, on how the self-owned right to life has turned into the right to determine the terms of one’s own existence, on how the pursuit of power to be like God(s) has left us at the mercy of those who actually wield the power. But it is instead an alleged account of the self-destruction of evangelical reformism:
The evangelical revival of the 18th and 19th centuries produced the abolition movement, which gave rise to the women’s suffrage movement, which inspired the civil rights movement, which led to the patient’s rights movement. But now the patient’s rights movement faces off with many 21st-century evangelical Christians in the Schiavo case.
There’s something to this narrative, but it misses one of the big points in dispute here. If Terri Schiavo had actually had a living will, it’s unlikely that many people would be worked up about this. Her wishes would have been known and, presumably, honored.
Under those circumstances, I can imagine a conversation about who’s improperly "playing God," the person who refuses "heroic measures" or doesn’t want to be kept alive in a "persistent vegetative state," or those who wish to use the full scope of human power to keep everyone alive as long as possible.
To put it another way, the preciousness of human life has always been understood to be consistent with human finitude. Our current dilemma stems from the fact that we increasingly regard finitude as "optional." Are we precious because we’re created in God’s image or because we ourselves are value-giving gods?
Update: Ken Masugi brings more to the seminar table.