Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The hypocrisy just kills me

I'm sure we've all heard about the Terry Schiavo case by this point. I feel sorry for the woman. I really do. But there's much more to it than one woman's life support.

For one, why is Congress going out of their way (and the President is flying across the country to sign it into law) - taking time from very important issues that affect millions if not billions of people - to pass a law giving Schiavo's parents standing in federal court? The NY Times editorial page says it best:

Ms. Schiavo's case presents heart-wrenching human issues, and difficult legal ones. But the Florida courts, after careful deliberation, ruled that she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means in her current state, and ordered her feeding tube removed. Ms. Schiavo's parents, who wanted the tube to remain, hoped to get the Florida Legislature to intervene, but it did not do so.

That should have settled the matter. But supporters of Ms. Schiavo's parents, particularly members of the religious right, leaned heavily on Congress and the White House to step in. They did so yesterday with the new law, which gives "any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo" standing to sue in federal court to keep her alive.

This narrow focus is offensive. The founders believed in a nation in which, as Justice Robert Jackson once wrote, we would "submit ourselves to rulers only if under rules." There is no place in such a system for a special law creating rights for only one family. The White House insists that the law will not be a precedent. But that means that the right to bring such claims in federal court is reserved for people with enough political pull to get a law passed that names them in the text.

The Bush administration and the current Congressional leadership like to wax eloquent about states' rights. But they dropped those principles in their rush to stampede over the Florida courts and Legislature. The new law doesn't miss a chance to trample on the state's autonomy and dignity. There are a variety of technical legal doctrines the federal courts use to show deference to state courts, like "abstention" and "exhaustion of remedies." The new law decrees that in Ms. Schiavo's case, these well-established doctrines simply will not apply.

Republicans have traditionally championed respect for the delicate balance the founders created. But in the Schiavo case, and in the battle to stop the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominations, President Bush and his Congressional allies have begun to enunciate a new principle: the rules of government are worth respecting only if they produce the result we want. It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic.

Using people on life support as political pawns is disgusting. It is, however, a clear indication of just how far into the gutter our national political scene has fallen.

That, however, wasn't the hypocrisy that motivated me to post. The hypocrisy that I want to draw attention to is one of the entire Religious Right. In a statement yesterday, President Bush said,
"In instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."
I completely agree with that statement, and I think most of the Religious Right would also (they are, after all, the group that that statement was specifically written for and targeted to). So my question is this: how can the Religious Right venerate life on one hand (here and in the abortion context) while championing the death penalty with the other?

Answer: a predetermined reading of the Bible and a complete disregard for Jesus' teachings.


At 7:54 PM, Blogger DLW said...

check out Steve Knight's post calling on Terri supporters to also act on behalf of Sudan.


At 7:34 AM, Blogger Infission said...

Great post, and DLW: great addition.

The death penalty is a good example -- but not the only example -- of the selectivity of the Religious Right's valuing of all life for its own sake. My question: do we have a theory of why the Religious Right values life in certain contexts but not in others? Is there a rhyme or reason to it?

At 8:48 AM, Blogger 42 said...

I think it's more the "Religious" than the "Right." The Religion of Christianity that has developed throughout historically has traditionally been okay with executing the guilty or the heathen (see crusades, witch trials, death penalty, etc) while maintaining a high esteem for the of lives of the innocent - children, victims, fetuses, etc. Thus, an eye for an eye was justified as a form of deterrence - the lives of the innocent were valued more than the lives of the guilty.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Infission said...

Just to push you (rather than to disagree): (1) specifically how is the distinction between guilty and innocent "a complete disregard for Jesus' teaching" and (2) does that distinction explain why the Religious Right is up in arms about Terri but not about Sudan?

At 12:22 PM, Blogger 42 said...

It is only a complete disregard at the ends of the spectrum. We are supposed to love everyone (even the least of these), but that doesn't mean we can't treat people differently (i.e. the innocent, by leaving them alone, and the guilty, by trying to rehabilitate them). It becomes a complete disregard when we stop loving someone and instead condemn them to death.

As for Terri v. Sudan... my guess - and this is cold, politically calculating, and unlikely to be read anywhere else - is that this whole thing is really about Roe v. Wade, and politicans trying to make a point, not specifically about the value of life, but about the judiciary's role in the whole process to begin with. Watch to see if the Republicans use Terri Schiavo as a backdrop/political capital for upcoming judicial appointments.

As for the Religious Right, my guess is that they don't care about the Sudan for two reasons: (1) harder to identify with the Sundanese people, and, related, (2) "out of sight, out of mind." If I tripped on an infant left in the street this afternoon, I would do everything I could to save it. Yet infants are dying in Africa every minute and I do little or nothing to stop it.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Marcus said...

Sure, GW and the GOP and many conservative mouthpieces are playing to Kansas, as they do in connection with abortion, with gay marriage, and with most other socio-con issues.

All the same, and on the merits, I urge keeping Terri alive. But let's suppose we agree (as we do not) that, for whatever reason, we are not going to do that.

Then I urge we kill her painlessly and quickly rather than by depriving her of food and water.

No conservative would defend a death sentence to be carried out in that fashion.

Nor should any liberal defend any "letting die" that is really a court-ordered and legally coerced deprivation of food and water, every bit as cruel as locking somebody in a room and waiting for him to die.

At 8:23 AM, Blogger 42 said...

Well I can't disagree with that, but I really don't know the medicine behind it all. If "pulling the plug" is somehow cruel - my assumption was that she could feel no pain - then yes, something else needs to be done.

My bigger point though: why are we spending millions to keep her alive why we don't drop a dime for the children dying across the world? You can't possibly disagree with that, can you?

At 8:54 AM, Blogger ats54 said...

I like Marcus’ post, because it brings up an interesting issue (however, indirectly) – that of euthanasia, or “mercy-killing”.

Is this a situation where the patient should be euthanized? I think everyone can agree that a quick injection is vastly preferable to two weeks of starving to death. I am a little surprised that I have not heard this being discussed on any of the news coverage I have caught.

If we have a right-to-life, do we have a right-to-die? Specifically, do we have a right-to-die on our own terms? Apparently, we do not – based on the assisted deaths performed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the following prosecution.

I wonder what a polling of the Religious Right (prior to a couple years ago when the Schiavo case began making national headlines) would have indicated for personal preferences on issues of Do Not Resuscitate orders and life support systems. Would either Jeb or GW Bush have wanted to live fifteen years in that state? I would assume that they would not. If they would not want to live that way, how can they force (or try to force) someone else to live that way?

But, the other issue that the Schiavo case brings up (in my mind anyway) is: “what constitutes ‘vegitative state’”? Is it 30% brain function? 20%? 5%? Does it matter what part of the brain is functioning? How do we really know if there is a living person trapped inside that body? Or is it just an animated body – kinda zombie-ish?

This is an interesting case to me. I had an uncle who suffered from cerebral palsy. While he did not require a feeding tube, he could not feed himself. He could not speak (except for about four words) or express what he was thinking. But, you could see emotion on his face and hear it in his voice. You knew that his brain was working, but his body would not obey. I do not see this same liveliness in the video of Terri Schiavo. Her parents are not prolonging her life, they are extending her death.

My uncle lived a long life (a little over 30 years) and was able to enjoy it.

Terri Schiavo has been dying for 15 years. Please, let her go.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger ats54 said...

I also agree with the comments about the hypocrisy of the government (as a whole) in its extraordinary efforts regarding Terri Schiavo and the seeming indifference to innocent death around the world.

I think the "out of sight, out of mind" comment is right on target.

There is a reason that disaster relief funding always increases after a government dignitary visits the disaster zone. The Religious Right seems to make its stands on the emotional issues (abortion, death penalty, etc.). Maybe all they need is to experience the death and poverty around the world in a personal and emotional way.

Should it take that much effort? No.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger 42 said...

Ask and you shall receive, I suppose:


Schiavo not likely to experience a painful death, neurologists say

By Kathleen Fackelmann, USA TODAY

Terri Schiavo has had no food or water since Friday, which has led her parents and their supporters to complain that she could be experiencing a painful death. But neurologists on Wednesday said that based on court findings of her condition, her body gradually will shut down in a painless process that will lead to death...

"She's not experiencing hunger - she's not experiencing anything," Albin says.

Patients in such a state don't get better because the body is unable to repair such a massive injury to the brain, says James Bernat, a neurologist at the Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H.

"If you're in a state like this for three months or more, you're chance of recovery is zero," Albin says.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger ats54 said...

Last week when all the Schiavo stuff was brewing, a local radio station did an informal poll of callers and 100% of them (not a valid sample size by any means said they did not want to be kept alive like that. A local news team (with a larger, but not official sample size) did the same and something around 85% did not want to live that way.

I for one would not want to live that way. Actually, give me 3 months to pull out of it. After that, let me go. Does this constitute my living will?

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Lyrad said...

This case definitely deals with the euthanasia issue. As a veterinary student, I often think of the hypocrisy of human views on animal euthanasia vs. human euthanasia. Both Conservatives and Liberals would usually agree that euthanasia is the right thing to do when a dog/cat, who they view as part of their family, is physically suffering greatly or has a poor standard of living. Euthanasia is displayed as the morally right thing to do and veterinarians are usually in agreement (I am not talking about when owners choose euthanasia because of financial reasons). Yet some of those same people do not believe it is the morally right thing to do when a human family member is in the exact same state. I know that some of these cases are easily explained by the “another animal is different than your own species” or “humans are better than animals” trains of thought, but there are owners who hold their companion animal in the same emotional regard as any of their human family, and yet this distinction on euthanasia still seems right to them. Any thoughts?

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Infission said...

"Lyrad," huh? I thought of calling myself "Thayil" for a time. (Inside joke here.)

Well, Lyrad, I think I can EXPLAIN the typical Christian's distinction between euthanizing animals and humans, but I don't necessarily endorse it. I'm not sure where I stand on this one personally at this point. But (good lawyer that I am) I can defend the mainline Christian against the charge of inconsistency.

You've basically answered your own question. The difference for the mainline Christian does lie along the “humans are better than animals” line of reasoning. You strike at this logic by claiming that "owners...hold their companion animal in the same emotional regard as any of their human family...." Yet, for the mainline Christian, this would not be the relevant relationship.

The relationship determining the value of the life is not so relative. It is the relationship between God and His creation that determines the life's value. God, the mainline Christian would argue, has a unique relationship with human beings. Human beings, NOT ANIMALS, were made in God's image. And in the words of Jesus:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not, therefore; YOU ARE OF MORE VALUE THAN MANY SPARROWS. Matt. 10:29-31 (emphasis added).

An owner's subjective feelings about her pet does not change, for the mainline Christian, the fact that GOD views the human life as much more valuable.

Now, certainly there are Christian counterarguments that could be made here. I don't necessarily buy the arguments above. But I think they serve to EXPLAIN the seeming inconsistency.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Infission said...

My wife suggests, after hearing my explanation, that mainline Christians would articulate the above much more succinctly: humans have souls, animals don't.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Lyrad said...

Nice point. It clears up a few things. What would you say about the following statement then:
Some/ Many Mainline Christians think that euthanasia is the moral thing to do when an animal or human is severely suffering or has lost significant standard of living. Since humans have dominion over animals they have the authority to carry it out. However only God has dominion over humans so God is the only one with authority to end the life of a human. This is the only reason that makes human directed euthanasias IMMORAL – they don’t have the authority. Therefore, in the absence of God, to not euthanize a person who is severely suffering (long term) or has a very decreased standard of living would be immoral in the same way that it is immoral not to put a severely injured dog that wasn’t going to survive “out of his misery”. The authority is the key point in this.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Lyrad said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Infission said...

I think the authority is PART of it, but not all of it. God's authority to decide if and when life ends is important, yes. But so also the QUALITATIVE differences between humans and other species REFLECTED in their special relationship with God. Again, the presence of a soul.

I can respectfully disagree with an agnostic or atheist position. But for most mainline Christians, I think, if your position requires the assumptions that God doesn't exist and that humans don't have souls, you will have lost them completely at the outset.

At 11:37 PM, Blogger Infission said...

Remember that I'm trying to speak for mainline Christians here. Perhaps 42 or ast could do a better job.

I don't have a well-developed position on euthanasia generally. I'd have to hear the term defined first. My thoughts on the Schiavo case specifically are in the comment to my "Meta Principle" post.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger ats54 said...

There's a few issues going on here for the "mainline Christian".

1. The authority to end human life
2. Suicide
3. Natural instinct to avoid pain

This first point I think is a very interesting one, and the one that requires the most attention to sift through. Christians who read the Bible (mainline or not) have a paradox to solve in regards to the authority to end human life. On the one hand, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) sets up many situations where God either allows or even mandates the death of someone or someones or entire races. As one who has studied Biblical Hebrew, I can tell you that the Jews have/had a wide array of words to describe one human ending another human's life. It's kinda like Inuits having 30 somethin' words for snow. You describe in great detail what you know. This is not meant to offend anyone of Jewish descent, it's just a simple observation.

Anyway, the word used in the different "Ten Commandments" passages was chosen very carefully. It's not the word that simply means "kill". It denotes, cold-blooded murder of an innocent. This is what is denounced in the Torah. Other types of killing are ok. Such as killing the people in the Promised Land because their gods would be a snare to the Jews. How different our world might be today had they followed through with that...(see the Palestinian/Israeli conflicts). So, the Christian believes that you must not commit cold-blooded murder based on the OT. However, Jesus' teaching that you should "turn the other cheek" and "he who is without sin cast the first stone" seem to turn the OT teachings on their head. Plus, Jesus saying that he came "to fulfill the law, not to condemn it" makes it seem like Jesus didn't know what he was talking about when referring to the law. Or do we not know what we're talking about?

So, the Christian must decide, did God change God's mind? How do Christ's teaching fulfill the law and not overturn it?

On the second note, suicide, many Christians have long believed that suicide is an automatic hell sentence. I don't see how this is possible. Samson commits suicide in the book of Judges yet he is mentioned in the book of Hebrews in the "Faith Hall of Fame" alongside Abraham and Moses. If Samson was sent straight to hell, would he be honored in such a way by an early Christian writer? Probably not. Therefore, I'm not sure suicide is an automatic hell sentence. Is it a sin? Hmm....

Finally, our natural instinct to avoid pain (God-given, by the way) presents another problem. None of us wants to spend our last 5 years in extreme pain due to cancer ravaging our bodies. This is a natural (God-given) feeling. If we are provided a way out, would God want us to take it?

Interestingly, when Christ was crucified, he died much quicker than almost every other person that was crucified. It usually took days for a person to eventually die. Christ died in a couple of hours. Was Divine power used to remove hours of torment from Christ while he was slowly dying? Was a Divine form of suicide required to fulfill the supposed messianic prophecy that "none of his bones will be broken"?

Anyway, there's some things to think about...


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