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Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Friday, June 17, 2005

Thank God, Part II!

Chefjef replies to this post from yesterday:

An interesting response. It is articulate and heartfelt, as well as (obviously) sincere, but demonstrates the problem with ideology.

Some of the points I made, in earlier posts, about this case were that that was no real "doubt." The trial court went through a long and extensive process of hearing expert witnesses, familial and associative witnesses and legal arguments from both sides. Then in appeals through every level of state and federal courts, judges of all political backgrounds (even though not holding a de novo review) read the entire evidentiary record, read the briefs (which are hundreds of pages) of attorney's arguments, and yet found no "doubt," no "circumstantial evidence" that would call into question anything that would dictate a de novo review or a vacate and remand order (essentially an order to the trial court to "do it over" with instructions on what was done wrong and how it should be done right.)

So, when you say "circumstantial reasons," where do they come from? While no one can be certain, prior to the autopsy it seemed to me more likely than not that the so-called "circumstantial evidence' was really hopeful assertions promulgated by certain well-meaning loved ones of Ms. Schiavo, which were seized upon by partisan folks and exploited for political purposes. Post-autopsy, while I do not pretend to be 100% certain of that, I believe it even more strongly.

In fact, I think you forgot to mention that Ms. Schiavo was to have been blind, which of course means that the assertions that she was responding to visual stimuli were nonsense.

Does this mean it was wrong for her "parents [to want] to care for her in her existing state"? Of course not. In fact, if more parents were as caring and involved as Ms. Schiavo's, I wouldn't have the job security that I have. The problem is, it wasn't their decision to make, and the so-called "circumstantial evidence' presented by certain folks on the Right that would have allowed the law to make it her parents' decision, seem to just not be true. Which is why I say ideology is part of the problem: unless you read the entire evidentiary record, how on earth do you know there was ACTUAL "circumstantial evidence" that was ignored, or not given due regard, by the legal system. The answer is you can't. It seems to me you can only BELIEVE the "evidence" may be there if you are ideologically predisposed to the legal result.

Thus, in this case, the legal system did what it was supposed to do: it cut through emotion and ideology, got to the truth (to the extent mere mortals can) and made it stand. it did not sentence Ms. Schiao to die. All individuals, and their spouses in their place, have the absolute legal right to make the decision to remove ventilators and feeding tubes. Having already dealt with issue of the so-called questionability of her husband's motives, it is clear she was not sentenced to die, she was allowed to exercise her centuries standing constitutional right to be allowed to refuse technological assistance to live.


I agree that the law seemed to work as advertised in this case, which is encouraging. Saying this, however, does not dismiss all issues in this affair, as I said yesterday.

1. No circumstantial evidence against Michael Schiavo? Perhaps not in legal terms, but certainly common sense might incline one to doubt the motives and veracity of an individual who apparently waited almost an hour to call 911 after Terri hasd her heart attack, had already drained Terri's insurance-money well dry, had started a family with another woman (possibly first seeing her before Terri's heart attack), had--on admittedly very tenuous legal grounds--been accused by caregivers of trying to kill her in the past, and had ample other reasons to want Terri out of the way. I will grant that the judges had access to info that the public did not--I hope these mitigated the doubts I just expressed in their minds and gave them reasonable justification to believe Michael Schiavo. No one was seeking to prosecute the husband even if it was found that he tried to kill her--we must presume his innocence in any case--but folks were just trying to prevent the wife from being actively put to death--and for good ideological reasons, at least from my viewpoint.

2. All humans view things "through a glass darkly." That is, everyone views events through some sort of normative lens and filters the information they perceive through stored patterns and assumptions. If these patterns and assumptions are systematized, even implicitly, they form an "ideology." Hence, almost everyone views things through an "ideological" filter, even if they aren't consciously aware that they have one or that they do so. In the case of most people, this ideology is given to them--by their parents, schools, colleges, the media, whatever--and involves little personal reflection. Regardless, it still forms a normative lens through which they view events. So, in a sense, all views are at least somewhat ideological. I agree that the law attempts to create standards of evidence and examination that permit some objectivity, but they still can't be entirely free of ideological bias. My point here is that you can't discount ideology entirely and that it works both ways. When people say they want to "dispense with ideology" they usually mean, "dispense with ideology that doesn't agree with my normative viewpoint." Many of those who wanted Schiavo dead did so for ideological reasons, just as many who wanted her life preserved did. Besides, even if the law did seem to work objectively with respect to the evidence in this case, that is not the whole story...

3. As I said yesterday, in one major sense the law did not work--and did sentence Schiavo to die. In the Quinlan case, as you may recall, the family petitioned to have her removed from artificial life support--a respirator without which, it was believed, she could not breath. When the courts ordered Quinlan taken off the respirator, she continued to breath on her own for ten years. In that ten years, she was never denied food and water, even though this entailed feeding her through a tube. In the Schiavo case, she was deliberately denied food and water. This was not a case of "letting nature take its course," it was an exercise in active euthanasia in a case where the victim's clear intent was not established.*
This represents a huge qualitative and moral difference--a change in the purpose and intent of the law.

I'll put an extreme case to you: (facts:) the great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is a) married, and b) almost entirely helpless and uncommunicative without the aid of other people and his computer (and deteriorates further every day). What if his wife were to remove his access to the computer through which he communicates, prevent access to him, refuse to feed him (which he cannot do himself), and say, "Stephen told me he wanted to die?" What would you say? You would say (I hope) that this was BS--feed the man! Are food and water, even if delivered through an internal tube, really "artificial life support," or are they just part of normal life, however delivered? Further, if you base a decision in these two cases upon relative intellectual capacity of the two individuals involved, then you are making a qualitative judgment about quality of life that is founded, at least in part, in ideology.

Once we've passed a point where we can legally and actively take steps to end lives that we find inconvenient or lacking in certain qualities that we (ideologically) value, then we set off down a very dangerous road. Travel down that road has already led to widespread court- and physician-ordered euthanasia in Western Europe. Further travel can lead to things like eugenics and worse. Travel down a similar road did lead to eugenics in the early 20th century and tens of thousands were sterilized or (in places like Nazi Germany) killed outright, based on standards that were called "objective" and "scientific" at the time, but which we now know were the worst sorts of tendentious ideologically-motivated pseudo-science. Nonetheless, this is a road that many on the left ardently wish to travel, based on their latest notions of what is "objective," "scientific," and "right" in an ideological sense--a religious sense, really. God enjoins that we need to be more careful--all human effort is error to some degree; if we must err, let's err on the side of life.


* Mind, I have no moral objection in cases where clear intent is established--as a pseudo-libertarian, I might even compass deliberate suicide from an ethical standpoint and let the individuals in question deal with the moral consequences of their action themselves. BUT...this requires a clear act and statement of uncoerced will.

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