Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri Schiavo - Yes, It's Personal

I have a confession. Part of my passion for the Terri Schiavo case is personal. I have a tendency to get angry about people who talk about the mentally disabled like they're lower forms of life, if in fact they're life at all.

This case boils down to whether or not it will be legal in America for the mentally handicapped to be forcibly put to death. Spin that in whatever flowery terms you'd like. Call my language biased. Retreat into legal arguments and pretend your real issue is about your respect for family rights. I don't care how you play it. I'll just observe the actions some of you enthusiastically endorse, others actively defend, and still others passively allow. Fine with me. A human life is a human life and the treatment you find tolerable toward such life will tell me more about you than all the rhetoric you can muster.

I have lived my entire life with mentally handicapped members of my own extended family. I married a woman who has a mentally handicapped sibling in her immediate family. I married her with the understanding that this sibling would be our responsibility one day. Those of you who have no such experience may not realize how ghoulish your pronouncements of Terri's "unworthy life" come across to some of us.

All these arguments people are making about how they would want to die if ever in such a situation... they strike me as a telling statement about how much value such people place in the lives of some members of my family.

I respect many people who make such statements. People can occasionally speak carelessly and hurt others without reflection upon what they're saying (guilty myself there at times) . I certainly hope that's what is going on here.

The simple fact is that none of you speaking from your current state knows how you would think or feel in the other. Yet your unwillingness to try to find value there - preferring death itself to finding value - is pretty hard to square with the likelihood you truly value the lives of some of my family members.

So yes, there is a personal angle here. I'm creeped out by so many people making arguments that apply to other disabled people just as much as they do to Terri Schaivo- arguments that weigh such lives as having less value than a dog. And I react with anger toward those offended that our government considers such matters more important than the price of tea in China; apologies to the huffy protestations and overall self-importance of the tea-lobby.

I think Terri's life is more important than such interests. I think all such lives are more important than such interests. And I used to live in a country where that notion was self-evident.

Time to sum up: Forced euthanization is immoral. It's not only not merciful, it's a cultural poison. People who advocate the killing of non-consenting innocent people ought to be societal pariahs, because they cause damage far beyond those they directly kill. They cause people to look at some of my own family members as something less than fully human, and that crosses a line for me that I will. Not. Budge.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Understood about your strong feelings on this case, due to your personal circumstances. And you are completely entitled to think less of someone, like perhaps myself, who might have said at some fleeting moment, "Gee, I'd rather die than live like that." No, it's true I DON'T know what Terri's life is like firsthand, and so of course could not begin to know if I could ever find value in it myself. But by saying I'd rather not be compelled to try, I am not necessarily siding with the husband (he skeeves me out to no end). I also don't think that forcibly starving someone should be allowable by law. None of us knows what her true wishes were or are, so condemning her to that horrible vicious death would be barbaric.

I DO think however, should something unfortunate ever befall, that I would rather die than put my husband and family through the pain of having to go on with me alive but not "me" any longer - not truly gone, so they wouldn't be able to grieve, but not truly "around" anymore, so they wouldn't be able to make a connection either. If that doesn't square with what is thought as the proper moral position, that's ultimately my problem. If you take my wishes for my own situation personally, though, you might be barking up the wrong tree. You have a desire to protect your family members, which is admirable and correct. I have my own family to think about, and would like to be able to protect them too. No offense intended.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

No offense taken.

No matter how much I might disagree with any person's personal choice in such a case, I'd still respect it. If Terri Schiavo had a living will calling for the witholding of food and water in her circumstance, I'd respect it legally (though still disagreeing morally).

But I would note that there is a disctinction between literally protecting a family member's life and protecting the same from emotional discomfort.

12:10 AM  

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