Saturday, March 26, 2005

Starved for Logic

Highlighting the method of Terri Schiavo's impending doom is a favorite rhetorical flourish for those lining up on the side of "life" in this fractious medical and moral drama that's saturating the 24-hour news cycle (a recent Google search on Schiavo and "starve to death" yielded almost 27,000 results).

Here's a comment from the inimitable Dr. Laura Schlessinger illustrating this tendency:
Now, I have a living will. My living will says no extraordinary techniques should be used to maintain me. Y'know, it doesn't say to torture me and starve me to death. This is grotesque, this is barbaric, this is mean, this is cruel.
While Dr. Laura compares Schiavo's treatment to "torture," there are some bloggers out there making an even more obvious play for the emotions by comparing her treatment unfavorably with the final exit of prisoners on death row. Here are a few samples:

  • From the Catholic Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam blog—"Terri Schindler-Schiavo has won a temporary stay from [sic] execution by a method too cruel to be used for convicted criminals."

  • From the anti-liberal weblog moxie—"Scott Peterson will face (eventually) a sterile, painless death after brutally murdering his wife and son Connor. On the other hand, Terri Schiavo — who is guilty of nothing other than having poor health [understatement of the year!-ed.] — will have to starve to death so her cheating husband can collect her insurance payout and get remarried."

  • From The Powers That Blog, quoting a nurse named Cheryl Ford who worked for Schiavo's parents in 2003—"This is not a painless or dignified way to die," Ford said. "It's against the law to dehydrate and starve to death a prisoner on death row. Why should we allow it to be done to a disabled woman — or anybody?"
Beyond their obvious flair for the maudlin, these commentators all share one thing in common: they're totally disingenuous.

Because these writers oppose euthanasia, the method of Schiavo's death is immaterial. They would be against it no matter how brutal or humane it might be. Pointing out that she is being "starved to death" is the height of hypocrisy because it is the very lobbying efforts of such people that have ensured this outcome. Because euthanasia is illegal, to answer Cheryl Ford's question, Schiavo's doctors have no recourse other than to withhold treatment. Murderers on death row die a more humane death than this poor woman because this is what the anti-euthanasia pro-lifers, in their wisdom, have demanded. Seen in this light, Terri Schiavo's slow starvation is more of an argument for euthanasia than against it.

Some commentators are so eager to scoff at the idea of Schiavo's "death with dignity" that they fail to recognize that the dignity is not in the method of death but in the freedom from a non-existent life.
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