I can think of only two occasions on which I agreed with George Bush. Both involved the upholding of the people’s negative, or leave-me-alone, rights.
The first was his refusal to capitulate to the Kyoto-protocol crazies. Not surprisingly, some conservatives denounced this rare flicker of good judgment. And I’m not talking a “Crunchy Con” of Andrew Sullivan’s caliber—he does proud to Greenpeace and the Sierra Club combined. No less a conservative than Joe Scarborough commiserated with actor Robert Redford over the president’s “blind spot on the environment.” (Ditto Bill O’Reilly.)
The other Bush initiative I endorsed was the attempt by Congress to uphold Terri Schiavo’s inalienable right to life—a decision very many conservatives now rue.
Upholding rights to life, liberty, and property is a government’s primary—some would say only—duty. But, bless their cruel little hearts, this cast of conservative characters is at least consistent. It relished the launch of a bloody war in contravention of fact, law, and morality, and now, fittingly, it’s atoning for its incongruent attempts to forestall a killing.
In a pre-election postmortem in the Washington Post, former House majority leader Dick Armey, in particular, castigated Republican lawmakers for taking up trivia such as Terri, which he lumped with the ban on horsemeat and the attempted bans on same-sex marriage and flag burning.
Other Republicans have since expressed (or whinnied) similar reservations, couched as a sudden disdain for government overreach. Note to Dick and Andrew: Federalism means “divided sovereignty,” which, if we are to take James Madison seriously, ought to make it difficult for states to begin executing their citizens.
On one thing we can all agree, Schiavo, a human being who was neither dead nor dying, was treated like horsemeat. As I wrote in “As She Lay Dying,” her medical condition, clearly vegetative, was an artifact, an irrelevancy to the main issue: the absence of a living will or a clear directive from the woman herself. Her husband’s hearsay or a court’s decision was not to be equated with her will. Since natural rights antedate the state apparatus, nobody, other than Terry herself, had the authority to extinguish her life. By logical extension, it mattered not who upheld her negative right to life—state or federal official—just so long as someone did.
Nat Hentoff agreed that “Terri Schiavo was fatally denied due process because all the appellate courts, state and federal, relied wholly on the rigid misunderstanding of the central facts of the case by one Florida Circuit judge, George Greer.”
Dr. Thomas Szasz tosses and gores the lead hypocrites in the case:
In the Schiavo controversy, the courts upheld the fiction that Terri’s autonomy required that she be medically killed, in her own best interest. In view of the fact that we live in a country whose laws prohibit suicide and often deny patients with terminal illnesses the pain-killers they need, the doctors’ and courts’ sensitivities to patient autonomy were, in this case, touching to say the least. Michael requested the court to attribute to Terri the de facto right to physician-assisted suicide. That this decision favored Michael’s personal and financial interests, and the taxpayers’ economic interests, was purely coincidental.
Other commentators approved the state-sanctioned starving of Schiavo, not because she wanted it (which was the legal premise), but because they deemed her unworthy of individual rights. These confused casuists finessed poor reasoning and meager morals with convoluted and crude attempts at a cut-off point, whereby a human being ceases to be a human being, and henceforth can have his inalienable rights revoked by the demiurges of science and state.
Terry’s case is the litmus test for clear thinking, as evinced by Dr. Szasz’s penetrating piece in the June-2006 issue of the international journal of “Palliative and Supportive Care.” Titled “‘A Rose for Emily,’ A Rose for Terri: The Lifeless Body as Love Object and the Case of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo,” Dr. Szasz and I both share an appreciation for the allegoric power of William Faulkner.
Szasz is careful to dispel the libel perpetrated by medical ethicists, mainstream media malpractitioners, and Andrew-Sullivan conservatives, who “defined the case as a battle between ‘humanists’ and ‘religious zealots,’ ‘rationalists’ and ‘irrationalists,’ ignoring that there could be large numbers of people, not all of whom could be categorized as ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘evangelicals,’ who were genuinely troubled by the ramifications of viewing a life as inadequate and so deciding to end it.” To wit, Szasz and myself are libertarian; Alan Dershowitz a liberal. He described Michael Schiavo’s case as a thin reed and advanced a rights-based argument in Terry’s defense.
“Most of the debate was straitjacketed into medical terminology and dealt with concepts and issues such as the patient’s ability to feel pain, recognize persons, respond to stimuli, permanent vegetative state, brain death, prognosis, rehabilitation, and so forth”—all shadowboxing, says Szasz:
After more than a decade of being half-dead, it required no sophisticated medical knowledge or technology to conclude that, as a person, Terri Schiavo existed no longer, but that, as a human being, she was still alive. That, after all, is why there had been a long battle about the legitimacy of killing her. She had to be put to death before she could be legally de
clared dead and her corpse buried or cremated.
The Schindler’s mistake, contends Szasz, was to have “failed to emphasize that what Theresa Schiavo allegedly wanted was unconfirmable, based totally on hearsay evidence, and that, in doubtful cases, the long tradition of English and American law and the Christian religion favors the preservation of life and liberty over their forfeiture.”
Szasz stresses that “the principal issue in the Schiavo case—besides the economics of Terri’s care—was the conflict between two parties both claiming undying love and loyalty to her: her husband who wanted her dead, and her parents who wanted to keep her alive. In this circumstance, the commandment against killing should alone have been enough to tilt the balance in the parents’ favor.”
Szasz conjures “the legendary case of the disputed baby in the Old Testament,” as a metaphor for “the difference between the language of love and life, and the language of envy and death; between the philosophy of individualism and libertarianism, and the philosophy of collectivism and statism; and between the ethics of justice and the sanctity of life, and the ethics of bioethics and the justification for medical killing.” Only in Schiavo vs. Schindler, the judge, lacking Solomonic wisdom, gave the proverbial baby to the party that had vowed to have her killed.
Things turned out well for Dick Armey and his ilk, after all.
©2006 By Ilana Mercer