Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Right To Die and The Right To Kill --- Some Other Thoughts

This would go in the comments section of A Red Mind In A Blue State's recent psot called "I Believe -- Life," but I wouldn't want to clog up the Haloscan like that.

There is no end to the chattering one can have on subjects like the death penalty, abortion, euthenasia, stem-cell research, etc. But here's another dose.

Terri Schialvo is interesting, although I haven’t followed it very much in the last year or so. The assumption is that the parents speak for the adult child, and know what she wants better than the spouse does. This new impulse plays itself out in many emerging aspects of the law. Grandparent visitation rights are a more benign example of the same issue.

Apparently, the spouse in the Scialvo case is a bit of a creep, but that doesn’t mean that he is not accurately expressing his wife’s intent. This only shows that bad facts make bad law.

We are going towards a system where someone is never an adult, never a spouse, but always somebody’s child. Occasionally, the “right to die” issue emerges out of the other cloud, but I am not sure if, in the Scialvo case, at least, that is the main issue. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

My old friend General Grant was finishing his memoirs while he was dying of throat cancer. In order to keep himself alive, and relatively pain-free, he was relying on a legal (1885) but sometimes hard to obtain substance --- cocaine. When he finished his first draft of the book, the General, who had left New York City, and was living away from the glare of the press, outside of Saratoga, stopped taking cocaine, and died a few days afterwards. Mark Twain and at least one of the General’s sons felt that they should keep telling him that there was more to write and edit, even if they had to create busy work. The General, who had famous struggles with the bottle, did not feel up to being a cocaine addict as well. If he had stayed in New York, in the press’s glare, would he have been free to make that decision?

Maybe. It is my contention, although facts are hard to come by, that Jacqueline Kennedy, living in New York City in the 1990s, made a similar choice. Would Grant or Kennedy be able to make that choice in the world of 2005? Perhaps/ perhaps not.

There was a case in New York State a few years ago where a noted writer on the topic of “death with dignity,” who had published articles stating that if such-and-such a weird accident happened to him, and rendered him unable to live outside of a vegetative state, he would surely prefer if no extraordinary measures were taken to keep him alive. As luck would have it, the exact weird accident happened to him, and he wound up in a vegetative state. The New York State courts claimed that even though he had expressed a clear preference (and had executed the legal documents that the State Legislature said were needed), they would not allow the hospital to fulfill the man’s wishes. Perhaps the state felt that he was too lucky, I don’t know.
One core belief, which covers my views on things like euthanasia, and similar matters, which I have to express without any logical precedent is:

Just because you’re going to hell doesn’t mean you ought to go to prison.

Another “core belief,” which does have a logical explanation, if I was smart enough to parse it out in less than 1,000,000 pages is:

Vengeance is a legitimate core value in human beings, and the society has an obligation to satisfy a reasonable desire for vengeance. A person’s decision to forego vengeance to become a law-abiding member of society is coupled with society’s implicit promise that it will handle the vengeance issue in a responsible manner.

Societies break apart over this issue (the more effete may call it lack of proportionality in the administration of justice --- which covers a wide variety of issues, but probably none more so that killing the wrong people and letting others who should die live), even before they break apart because everyone is going hungry (unless hunger is also an administration issue).

[You can carry this issue down the line some. You could say that a government’s environment policies, its health and safety policies, its policies on poverty and its reaction to excess misfortune {i.e. catastrophic health care and bankruptcy laws} cause far more “government-sponsored” deaths than its decision to kill murderers, or allow its policemen to shoot first, or even to fight a war. But that is for another day.]

One current issue where these two core beliefs clash is the administration of justice on the issue of abortion. If the full power of government should come down on abortion, then all the doctors and all the women who were ever caught out having an abortion, would have to serve a full-term for murder. Clearly, no anti-abortion type I have heard ever says that would be a proportionate administration of justice. So I don’t believe that anyone who says “abortion is murder” really means it. Maybe “abortion is felony” or “abortion is a Class B misdemeanor.” Or maybe “Abortion will send you to hell, but we should never throw you in prison.”

(Incidentally, if you can get someone to admit to that, you could probably get their minds around the idea of some sort of stem cell research. As matters stand, we will probably approve stem cell research about the same time that billions of research dollars, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and our standing as the world’s leading science (and therefore military) power have permanently left the United States for some other country, maybe India or Germany.)

According to me, if I thought abortion was murder, all these women and their doctors would have to be put to death. All of the husbands and friends who accompanied these women to their doctors, or drove them to their doctors, would have to serve hard time as accessories to murder. I finesse the issue like this: Wherever human life begins in the mind of God, I say that as far as the government is concerned, no government-issued birth certificate, no government-issued birth. No government-issued life, no government-mandated protection.

Just because you go to hell doesn’t mean you have to go to prison.

Let Rick Santorum propose a bill for pregnancy certificates. See where that goes. I know --- it would pass in 35 states. Let’s see if it is enforced in any county where people make more than the median income. Let’s see how people treat the disproportionate administration of vengeance.

One school of anti-abortion thinkers finesse this issue by bombing abortion clinics, or marking abortion doctors for death on their websites, while claiming that the women who receive abortions are acting under diminished capacity during their “laying-in”. Whether that means these women are capable of making any complicated decision, or going about their jobs, or raising their other children, I can’t say.

Certainly, it is hard for anyone to avoid a hypocrisy trap.