Monday, April 04, 2005

Legal and moral responses #3

John Leo writes in next week's US News & World Report about the Schiavo affair. In it he broaches two subjects that bear discussion. One looks forward and one looks back.

About the future of such situations and public opinion, Leo writes:

Public opinion: Polls showed very strong opposition to the Republican intervention, but the likelihood is that those polled weren't primarily concerned with Terri Schiavo or Republican overreaching, if that's what it was. They were thinking about themselves and how to avoid being in Terri Schiavo's predicament. Many, too, have pulled the plug on family members and don't want these wrenching decisions second-guessed by the courts or the public.

If this is correct, it means the country has yet to make up its mind on the issue of personhood and whether it is moral and just to remove tube-supplied food and water from people with grave cognitive disabilities. The following candid exchange occurred on Court TV last month in a conversation between author Wesley Smith and bioethicist Bill Allen. Smith: "Bill, do you think Terri is a person?" Allen: "No, I do not. I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood." Fetuses, babies, and Alzheimer's patients are only minimally aware and might not fit this definition of personhood, and so would have no claim on our protections.

What of the vulnerable? Are they to be protected regardless of whether it is fair to believe they can recover some semblance of a "normal" life or are they to be dispatched at the first inkling that they aren't "there" anymore and likely never will be?

His second observation, actually made earlier in the piece, is a simple clear-cut political observation:

My suspicion is that liberal opinion was guided by smoldering resentment toward President Bush and the rising contempt for religion in general and conservative Christians in particular. We seem headed for much more conflict between religious and secular Americans.

I don't have a hard time believing that. Sadly...

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