Sunday, March 20, 2005

I HAVEN'T BLOGGED SINCE THURSDAY, partly because my computer is dead and I have to use my daughter's, when she's not using it; but also because I've been feeling very depressed and hopeless lately about the news. Lately, sitting down to blog seems to mean repeating the same news over and over again, albeit with the latest wrinkles.

For example, Terri Schiavo. I wrote about her on Thursday, before her feeding tube was removed. Now, today, what the media is calling a "compromise" has been reached. But the compromise is not between Terri Schiavo's parents and her husband, or even between her husband and Congress. The compromise is between the different camps in Congress over the fate of a woman in Florida who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years and whose parents and husband disagree over whether her feeding tube should be removed or kept in. My first reaction to this state of events is that it is absolutely surreal. For over two centuries, since this country was founded, it was possible to have a private life in which you could make medical and health decisions for yourself and your family. It seems America has reached a point in its development where that is no longer possible. Americans cannot have private lives anymore; cannot make their own personal decisions for their own loved ones' welfare without having 250 million other Americans and the federal government telling them what they should do. I mean, what is going on here?

The situation now seems to be that the two sides in Congress warring over whether Terri Schiavo's feeding tube should be re-inserted or kept out have agreed to pass a quickie law allowing a federal judge to decide whether to favor the parents' wishes or the husband's wishes in this private family decision. But as I understand it, the feeding tube will not be re-inserted until and unless the law is passed and a federal judge subsequently orders that the tube be re-inserted. So what we have here is the prospect of Congress trying to rush through a law on a fundamental matter of human rights and personal privacy, without taking the time to discuss the issues in even a perfunctory manner, because if they take that time, Terri Schiavo would probably die. So they will rush the law through, although they can only get the law passed if every member of Congress agrees to it, and they will ask a federal judge to rule on it immediately, and either way the decision goes, it will be a decision made at lightning speed concerning a matter with enormous, incalculable implications for the power of government to involve itself in Americans' personal lives.

And then there is the bankruptcy legislation. The more I read about it, the more this law looks to me like another example of the government forcing its way into private individual decisions -- in this case financial decisions about how to handle overwhelming personal debt. The bill stipulates that individuals planning to file for bankruptcy have to go through "counseling" on how to handle debt at least 180 days before being allowed to file. The ostensible purpose of this requirement is to "make sure debtors know they have options other than bankruptcy." However, there is no similar requirement that credit card executives attend classes or training seminars on how to make responsible decisions about targeting and lending to high-risk consumers -- so they know they have lending options other than blanketing low-income and financially unstable people with credit card offers.

To me, this counseling plus waiting period requirement sounds awfully similar to the anti-abortion laws in many states that impose waiting periods on pregnant women, and require them to sit through anti-abortion lectures and videos, before they can end a pregnancy -- so that they know "they have options other than abortion."

Abortion and filing for bankruptcy are very different situations, but they have one thing in common: They are both highly personal and private decisions that individuals make, after much serious and often agonized consideration, based on their own unique understanding of their health concerns in the case of abortion and their financial concerns in the case of bankruptcy. Abortion is a private decision made by a woman in consultation with a medical expert: her doctor. Bankruptcy is an equally private decision made by either a woman or a man in consultation with a legal expert: the lawyer; and in the case of bankruptcy, a judge as well.

End of life decisions, abortion, and now debt relief: three areas of private life in which the federal government tries to intrude itself into Americans' personal lives and private family decisions, based on the assumption that individuals are incapable of making informed, intelligent decisions without government supervision. The list is growing.

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