March 31, 2005

Life and Personhood

Your grandmother isn't a person. At least, that's what a lot of bioethicists are saying. If you know someone with Alzheimer's (presumably then, somebody at least 40 but more likely 70 or 80) then that someone isn't a person.

The main doctor for Michael Schiavo is a widely-known advocate of precisely that sort of thing. He believes that Alzheimer's patients are not persons and that the cost of keeping them alive is prohibitive. Of course, he once declared a police Sergeant in a permanent vegetative state and said he would never wake up or regain cognitive ability. Less than two years later the Sergeant woke up and did, in fact, regain most of his mental abilities.

The problem with a lot of bioethicists is that they exist to push the line against existing ethics, rather than chide us for breaking any ethical lines. If anything we do is unethical, it's not killing people with mental illnesses.

As a person who had a grandmother with Alzheimer's I admit I have a personal take on the issue, but if bioethicists want to wip out a million or two old people, how far do you think they are from justifying Eugenics-like programs to resume sterilizing the mentally and physically retarded? It did happen before in the West - and a number of US states started Eugenics programs. As Governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson (in the spirit of the times and in the spirit of the Progressives) appointed a Chief Eugenicist for the state. It was not restricted to Germany - a lot of the German early experiences with Eugenics were based off of US programs for sterilizing "mental defectives." Sweden continued sterilizing them until 1976 and had special schools and instiututions dedicated to the task of spiriting away the "defectives" (though ironically they had a somewhat defective screening process and sometimes confused the shy and near-sighted with the retarded).

I'm not saying it WILL happen any time soon, though I can't say they won't advocate it. Hopefully we've learned too much from the Holocaust to get so explicitly back on the Nazi path (I hope I didn't just jinx us by saying that). But I AM asking a question: Even if we never do sterilize retarded people, is it any different or any better to knock off old people without their permission?

Imagine the scenario...

Grandpa: Hey little Jimmy, let's go fishing!
Jimmy: Sure Grandpa!
Grandpa: Okay, let me just... hmmm, I can't find my keys! Consarnit!
Jimmy: Uh-oh Grandpa, I guess it's time to take you to the Bioethical Recycling Center for organ reassignment and end-of-life treatment.
Grandpa: What? No! I'm still a person! I can think and feel! Please love me, Jim!
Jimmy: It's JimMY, you non-person, you. Let's go, you unthinking bag of flesh.
Grandpa: Nooo!

Okay, that was in bad taste and probably inaccurate, but do we really think it's okay to just kill people for having weaker brains? If anything we're supposed to be protecting the weak, not throwing them to the bioethicist wolves.


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