April 03, 2005

Schiavo, Abortion and Depression

    Basically, I've been too depressed since we allowed Terri to die. That's how important I think the battle was. The extent to which relativism, solipsism, legalism, smugness, politics and utilitarianism have overwhelmed our previously-universal sense of what it is to be human has sent me into profound despair.
It's been depressing for me as well. I'm trying not to read too much into it but I always figured that we'd give "the best medical care" and "do everything we could" before unplugging a living person who hadn't left a request to do so. Considering Terri wasn't allowed even the barest rehabilitation, was never given an MRI or PET, and never left any written, legal or objective request to be unplugged in ANY situation, I don't know what to feel.

If I were taken to criminal court and the Court a) deprived me of the presumption of liberty and innocence, b) reduced the standard from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "clear and convincing evidence" and c) tried to get me killed without a jury as the trier of fact, then the ACLU and hordes of Americans, left, right and center would clamor for me. I would probably be pardoned by 4 out of 5 Governors in America if no solution came within a few weeks.

But somehow, the fact that Terri can't speak lets people be deceived by horribly incomplete medical information. They believe a few pundits and lawyers when it comes to science, even though the typical lawyer probably couldn't identify positive and negative on a car battery, let alone understanding the chemical operations of the human brain. And being deceived by misinformation and lack of information into believing that Terri doesn't have brain activity they then believe she has no quality of life.

And that's okay. That's fine. People are stupid and gullible and pass judgments on the lives of others. Fine. I don't really care.

But then they take their ignorance, snap judgments and personal preferences and carry it over to Terri Schiavo. Just because you or I would hate to be incapacitated, we assume Terri Schiavo would hate it so bad she'd want to die - or that she's already dead. That's simply idiotic.

We ought to take our knowledge and ability to empathize and express sympathy for her condition. We ought to be impelled to try and rehabilitate her, even if it is a slim chance of success. We ought to feel for her and hope she can recover.

But somehow people jump straight to unplugging her, even without her wishes clearly known or her medical condition clearly understood. That's just depressing. I know the CBS polls saying Americans support was horribly biased, as evidenced by the Zogby poll. Zogby found that, when given a correct description of Terri's condition, a strong majority of Americans did not want to unplug her. So really this is media bias.

My problem is not that people seem to support it. My problem is that the legal system does. The legal system is supposed to protect liberty. I know they've completely forgotten about economic liberty ever since 1933 rolled around; I know they never really believed much in the Second Amendment; I clearly saw that the courts had little interest in protecting babied before they're born. For some reason I assumed they still could see that a human, even stripped of clear communicative abilities or mental faculties, was still a human being.

There is nothing in the Constitution that says our rights go away when we're brain-dead or when a majority of people wouldn't want to be in our shoes. Quality of life never appears in the Constitution, yet somehow the right to life and due process walks right out the window once people think you're a 'vegetable.' It's not just about Terri; what about the next person who really IS a vegetable (unlike Terri) and people try to pull the plug without permission from the patient? That's not any better, just because the patient may be even further gone.

I remind myself, though, that over a million in this country alone die annually for the crime of being unborn. In Darfur thousands and thousands are dying every month for the crime of being black. In Florida, Terri Schiavo died for the crime of being disabled. None of this is right; all of it ought to be stopped - by the US government, if nobody else will do it. Putting Terri's death in perspective - 'what's one death against the 40 million killed by abortion' - tends to just further depress me. But it also makes me seek a solution.

Here's my solution:

"Amendment XXVIII

Section 1. No person, except those convicted of a serious crime, shall be deprived of the right to life, regardless of age, illness or condition of mental or physical disability, without prior consent of the person in question, where the existence and validity of such consent must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and in all such cases a jury must be the trier of fact.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

What would this do? I've left the death penalty untouched, though it would be easy to take out that criminal clause. I've covered age, disease and mental/physical disability - meaning old people, brain-dead people and those with Alzheimer's would all be covered, as well as others. This is a broad pro-disabled person section.

I also allow for living wills and assisted suicide, provided it's done with proven consent. But then notice how I apply basic laws that exist for rapists and murderers and merely extended the same protections over to law-abiding citizens. No more probate judges passing judgments of fact with the "clear and convincing" standard. It requires a jury and a standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The only other issue, besides the death penalty issue, is abortion. Technically the Court says that fetuses aren't properly persons; at least they definitely aren't considered persons until around the Third Trimester. But this could be an issue because by removing 'age' as a reason to take a life, I've removed both old age and young age. That means it's possible this might be seen or used as a way to stop abortion - or at least abortion without the fetus' proven consent. I don't think the Court would likely take it that way, considering the lengths they already go to keep abortion legal, but it's possible.

I'd also be willing to add in a section guaranteeing the liberty of people to request assisted suicide in the case of debilitating illness or infirmity, but I don't think it's a great idea. Considering the fact that a) it seems things are mostly fine in that area, or headed that way, b) it would be hard to word it appropriately (who wants a constitutional right for teens with angst to kill themselves?) and c) the political difficulty of alienating the Catholics AND the abortionists with two different sections, I think that's best left for another time.

To clarify, I don't expect this to come to law. It's just my idea of what OUGHT to be. Maybe somebody else will pick it up and a similar idea will gain momentum, but it's already done what I expect of it by allowing me to divert my attentions towards a solution instead of depression.

UPDATE: I've got a new version of the amendment. I've incorporated more or less all of the Sixth Amendment protections. See my website here for the issue article on it (it's under Terri Schiavo III).

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