Friday, March 25

The Schiavo case

I'm a little surprised at how big the Schiavo case has become. I miscalculated the political importance this would take on.

One little-discussed issue, relative to the headline media coverage, is the role of states' rights over against the role of the Federal Governement. My default position would be: let the states and their courts handle the case. Maybe this case is important enough to take on at the national level. I guess politics and public opinion are saying so.

Something I haven't heard much about is the length of time Schiavo has been on a feeding tube: 15 years. To me, there's not a material difference between 'life support' and a feeding tube at the 15 year mark.

Having heard an interview with the doctor for the state of Florida who diagnosed Schiavo as 'persistently vegetative', I find his diagnosis compelling.

There was an interesting article yesterday morning that one poll finds most Evangelicals, who support the 'right to life', oppose federal intervention in the Schiavo case.

There's lots of irony in this case. We Evangelicals fight for the 'right to life', and I believe we should (though of course I often disagree with the tactics, rhetoric, and spirit employed). However, we also profess life after death. We have the most reason of anyone to not hold life too tightly. There are fates worse than death.

We say God ultimately decides when a person dies (medical treatment and technology notwithstanding), and that that decision should not be usurped by people. That's what Evangelicals are fighting for, on abortion and euthanasia and life support.

Another irony in this case, as Daniel Shore pointed out on NPR, is that many of the same people who are arguing to extend Schiavo's care are those who want to cut Medicare and bemoan a looming Social Security crisis. How do we pay for years of this kind of care?

I talked to my brother about this case last night on the phone. He sent me a link to an article on an alternative Catholic view (caveat: Catholic difference of opinion is sometimes pretty hard to sort out: who speaks for the pope?). Overall, I tend to agree with Rev Paris' opinions expressed in this article, obviously including the 'limited goodness' - from a Christian perspective - of life.
[T]he pope's 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia...says that one need not use disproportionately burdensome measures to sustain life. Even if the treatment is in place, if it proves burdensome it can be removed.

The Pope's own health, about which Eric comments, factors into an overall perspective here. While I agree with Eric that the pope's suffering is 'an act of service, faith and love' and that his courage is inspirational, I think the post would best serve by moving into an 'emeritus' role. He would still be a much beloved spiritual leader while his important administrative responsibilites could be picked up by someone in better health.

My friend Carol and I have been discussing this case. She pointed me to law professor Ann Althouse, who has two good posts on this case relative to federalism and the rule of law (expressed mostly regarding 'activist' judges).

Carol also linked (in this discussion thread) this post evaluating some of the principles involved in this case.

I agree with Bainbridge on these four values as important principles: culture of life, limited government, federalism, and the rule of law. But I don't agree with him in application. I don't apply 'culture of life' the way he does. I tend to think the federal government should not intervene in this case. I don't think 'failing' to step in and protect Schiavo is a failure of government. I don't think federalism should be interrupted here. And, while agreeing that Schiavo's husband has a conflict of interest and that the chronology of his actions is distressing, I don't think that the appeals court judge compromised himself by assuming inconsistent roles. I think he was showing acceptable bias for federalism and the rule of law.

At the end of the day it may be the case that protecting life trumps limited government, federalism, and the rule of law. But I'm not convinced, so far, that this is the case that should do it.
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