Thursday, March 17, 2005

REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS want to pass legislation to nullify yesterday's court decision to allow Terri Schiavo's doctors to remove her feeding tube. Personally, I think making law to address one individual's situation trivializes the purpose and meaning of law. Laws exist to protect the rights and enforce the obligations of the entire society -- not to get a particular preferred outcome in one specific instance.

Scott McClellan, Bush's communications person, said that if Congress passed its Terri Schiavo Law, Bush would sign it, because the "proposed legislation fell within Mr. Bush's desire to 'build a culture of life.' "

It's odd, really. It's even fascinating, in a science fiction-ish kind of way. "Mr. Bush" and his Republican acolytes support a "culture of life" in inverse proportion to how self-aware or actualized that life is. Thus, a frozen embryo is a "microscopic American"; but a child killed by a U.S. bomb in Iraq is "collateral damage." Right-wing commentators like Andrew McCarthy express moral outrage about removing feeding tubes from a woman who has existed for 14 years in a persistent vegetative state and whose prognosis for regaining consciousness is almost nil; but I wonder how much outrage McCarthy and his ilk expressed over Bush's recent call to cut funding for food aid to children and their low-income mothers.

McCarthy also expresses the view, common among Republican Bush-supporters, that the value of life is directly related to the innocence of that life; and that torturing, abusing, maltreating, and killing human beings who have done bad things or who might have done bad things is acceptable, if not fine.

What kind of law is it, what kind of society is it, that says the lives of Khalfan Khamis Mohammed and Mohammed Daoud al-`Owhali’s have value — over which we must anguish and for the sustenance of which we must expend tens of thousands annually — but Terri Schiavo’s is readily dispensable? By court-ordered torture over the wrenching pleas of parents ready and willing to care for her?

What kind of society goes into a lather over the imposition of bright lights and stress positions for barbarians who might have information that will save lives, but yawns while a defenseless woman who hasn’t hurt anyone is willfully starved and dehydrated? By a court — the bulwark purportedly protecting our right to life?

First of all, if Andrew McCarthy were being honest, he would not be claiming that "bright lights and stress positions" are what people who still have a conscience are troubled about. It's chaining human beings to ceilings and beating them to death over a period of five days that has people with a conscience in an uproar. It's forcing human beings to drink water until they can't breathe. It's tying them to a board, telling them they are going to be drowned, and plunging them into water that causes the uproar. It's terrifying children with attack dogs that has at least some people in an uproar. It's putting lit cigarettes into human ears and attaching electrodes to human male genitals that has a few people in an uproar. But writing "What kind of a society goes into a lather over beating prisoners to death, mock-drowning them, and torturing them with electric shocks to their genitals for barbarians who might have information that will save lives..." would not have the same ring to it. It wouldn't scan as well, either.

Second, a society that values only life that is inoffensive and has done nothing wrong is a society that does not value life at all -- just as a society that supports free speech for those who say nothing terribly controversial or shocking but not for those who express opinions or beliefs that are vile, hateful, offensive, or deeply unpopular is not a society that supports free speech at all. If you believe that life has intrinsic value, then a suspected terrorist's life is no less valuable than the life of a woman in a vegetative state who has not offended or harmed anyone.

I am not saying that I believe removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is the right thing to do. I can see both sides of this issue. I have very mixed feelings, and the truth for me is that I am just not sure. But I do ask myself what kind of a society can weep for the possible pain and suffering of a woman who has been unaware of her surroundings for over a decade; yet dismiss with a shrug and a sneer the pain and suffering experienced by human beings who are caught up in war, who see their families torn apart, and who all too often experience unimaginable terror and physical pain because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and have the wrong ethnic heritage.

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