Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

NYT imitates President’s Council on Bioethics

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.

Discussions - 2 Comments

"If Terri Schiavo had actually had a living will, it’s unlikely that many people would be worked up about this."

Precisely. I don’t feel worked up that patients’ rights have gone too far in this case, but I do feel worked up about the way in which a single imperious judge has acted on very flimsy evidence to hand enormous, life-or-death power to a patient’s guardian despite a bunch of doubts surrounding that guardian, while every other court has stubbornly looked the other way despite factual findings that seem to cry out for review.

When you add in the Schindler family, the very different testimony they’ve offered about Terri’s wishes, and the alternative solution they’ve held out, it does begin to feel like a miscarriage of justice is taking place here.

Perhaps the critical question here (it certainly seems in retrospect to have been the decisive turn in the litigation) is why Judge Greer sided with Michael Schiavo and knocked down the Pearse Report.

I’m also open to the possibility that the moral of this case could be simply that the state of Florida needs to tighten up its evidentiary standards and amend its laws so they don’t give guardians this much power in the absence of solid evidence of a patient’s wishes.

I just saw this communication from a Florida lawyer familiar with the Schiavo case (hat tip to Power Line). It’s an informed comment about what happened at the trial level:

My guess is that while it’s too late to save Terri, the Schindlers aren’t done with taking Michael Schiavo to court. IIRC from the OJ civil case, a fresh civil proceeding (say a wrongful-death lawsuit) would open up all the factual issues of the case again, meaning that the Schindler family would at least be able to draw public attention to what they argue are their son-in-law’s dubious motives and actions, and possibly force him to spend a lot of the money he’s about to inherit on lawyers instead of the high life.

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