Friday, April 01, 2005

They Call Me MR. Ailes

Great little feature on Fox News pioneer Roger Ailes who did something rather than complain about conservatives being treated poorly by the media. Check it out at CBS MarketWatch.

As usual, I offer a smidgen:

Maybe Ailes' greatest asset is his self-confidence. Like most visionaries, he doesn't seem to give a hoot what skeptics think. That's partly because he doesn't have much patience for critics, especially within his ranks. When a group of people are all working on the same page, it's easy to build loyalty. Once people function as a team, they feel unbeatable and, in turn, it's very hard to beat them.

From what I could see, there isn't a self-deprecating bone in the man's body. If Ailes sounded utterly unapologetic about Fox's unique brand of success -- pandering to the right wing -- it was because, quite clearly, he feels that he has nothing to apologize for.

That Ailes is cleaning CNN's clock -- remember, it was known as the Clinton News Network -- is being viewed as a blow to liberals and left-wing causes everywhere. And make no mistake about it. Nobody is enjoying their discomfort more than Ailes himself.

Puttin' My Cash Out On Da Street

One last item for today:

I had promised to announce here when I returned to Wall Street. As we have discussed here in the past, I move my retirement fund in and out of Diamonds (symbol: DIA) which track the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and I have been sitting on the sidelines with a cash position since December when I sold out at $107.97 a share at the 10,800 level of the index. I have averaged over 18 percent a year return over the last two years (the Diamonds also pay a dividend).

This morning I bought back in at $104.18. My broker ecstatically ran to call his entire client list, who follow me like some kind of guru.

Pope John Paul II, RIP

Early reports indicate that the Pope has departed to join Ronald Reagan in that special place in Heaven for those who saved the modern world from itself - at least so far. He was a (Papal) bull - and now even China shops.

With Apologies To Bobby Thomson...

... for liberals, Terri Schiavo is now the "cull herd round the world"...

Let Me Count The Waste

What is lost in our world by striking a Terri Schiavo from the rolls of the living?

The loss is incalculable.

Consider:
1) A person who is the object of love and compassion increases the presence of those elements in the world.

2) That person also offers an opportunity for many individuals, whether family members or caregivers, to express real acts of giving and kindness.

3) A person who suffers, in addition to purifying their own soul, brings forgiveness to humanity (according to both Judaism and Christianity). [Although in neither religion is this a reason to force a person to extend life; it is a spiritual consideration that is not factored into the practical medical decision.]

4) In Jewish theology, the world is measured every day and God's treatment of it is based on a mathematical/metaphysical calculus that is determined by the NUMBER of good people and the NUMBER of bad people at any given time. One good person can bring much blessing to the world merely by BEING.

A Moment for Pat Buchanan

Drudge linked to video of Pat Buchanan getting doused with salad dressing at Western Michigan.

It reminded me of a more dignified occasion when I went to see Pat promote his autobiography in 1987 (or was it '88) in Pensacola, Florida. Pat had returned to Crossfire after a gig as Reagan's Director of Communications. If you haven't read the autobio, Right from the Beginning, I urge you to obtain a copy. The Pat Buchanan you'll meet there is far from the semi-caricature of Pat the politician. Besides being the very interesting story of a young pugilist good with his hands and his pen, the book is a great tale of growing up Catholic in the 50's.

Positions on Schiavo—Some Whys and Wherefores

Lawrence Auster argues in an interesting article on Frontpagemag.com that the reason the Left decided to back Michael Schiavo in his quest to end his wife's life was a simple hatred of and fear of American Christian conservatives. It is an interesting argument, which I don't quite buy, but I must admit that his refutation of the reasons given for why the Left supported Michael Schiavo is persuasive.

Larry does ask the right question:

"If individual rights and personal choice are the liberals' bottom line, why must the personal preference of Michael, who has (understandably) moved on with his life, be seen as inviolable, but the personal preference of Terri's parents, who have not moved on with their lives but want to care for their daughter, must be equated with theocratic tyranny and resisted at all costs?"

It is not my intention here to restart the fight over the merits of that argument, only to point out that it is an important question for the Right to ask, if only to test its own position by considering its own positions on individual rights and personal choice.

Of course, the Left will argue (and has done so) that their response to the situation has been based purely on reason. I agree that it has been a reasoned position. The Right, however, would say the same about its arguments, again correctly in my view. As I have pointed out earlier on this site, the two sides had and still have a serious dispute over the facts of the case. They disagree on the basic question of whether Terri Schiavo had sufficient brain function that her condition did not meet the criteria that Michael Schiavo claims she set for preferring death over continued existence.

I believe this disagreement came about on the basis of the two sides' differing perceptions of the intellectual issues it brings up. It seems evident that each side leaped intuitively to a conclusion about what would be best in the situation, then chose arguments to support that premise. There is nothing wrong with that. However, pretending that one's own side is reasonable and the other is driven by dark superstitions, as many on the Left have done in the present case, does not evidence a use of pure reason. Likewise, claiming that one's opponents adore death, as many on the Right have done, is unlikely to win adherents for the pristine logic of one's position.

This issue won't go away, I surmise, because the hatred and suspicion of both sides remains. Indeed, the arguments over this issue have strengthened those hatreds. In that regard, Lawrence Auster is quite correct.

Pat Sajak, the Conservative

I knew Pat had spoken at Hillsdale (which establishes your movement cred like nothing else), but I had no idea he was willing to out himself on the internet. Mr. Sajak is a quasi-blogger. I suppose he can afford to be known since he's the man at Wheel of Fortune and will likely never take another show since Wheel has been tops in syndication for about 21 years.

Here's a taste of Pat's blogging:

Ask Mr. Politics II

Mr. Politics is back to answer your questions. And, as usual, he’s feeling a bit testy.

Now that a brutal dictatorship has been overthrown in Iraq, and free elections have been held there and in Afghanistan, and Libya has renounced its nuclear program, and Israel and the Palestinians have declared a cease-fire, and leaders of Saudi Arabia and others have been put on notice about democratizing their nations, what more has to happen in order for President Bush to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

J.V. Philadelphia, PA

THE COMMAND OF THE UNITED STATES MILITARY WOULD HAVE TO BE HANDED OVER TO THE UNITED NATIONS, KOFI ANNAN’S LIKENESS WOULD HAVE TO BE ENGRAVED ON MT. RUSHMORE, THE U.S. WOULD HAVE TO APOLOGIZE TO FRANCE AND GERMANY FOR MAKING A MESS OF THE MIDDLE EAST, AND, EVEN THEN, THE PRIZE WOULD MORE LIKELY BE AWARDED POSTHUMOUSLY TO YASSER ARAFAT.

(HT to Southern Appeal)

PRO-FESSAY POINT OF VIEW

My new fessay, #4, is up at the blog reserved for such forays into uncharted literary territory: Fessay So Myself.

The "fessay" is my recent literary invention, in which the column responding to a story is rendered in the form of fiction, i.e. a "fictional essay".

#4 responds to the news of Terri Schiavo being starved to death by judicial fiat, which event was lustily cheered by great big swaths of our society, most particularly the "Beautiful People".

A tangential bit of good news: The first fessay was posted on March 21, and by March 23 was featured by the Patentist web site (a resource for inventors and patent attorneys) as an important new invention.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Courting Disaster

Dr. Zycher made reference below to Jewish tradition and law, which militates against doing any act to speed the death of a person. Although a death-preventing device may be removed in certain extreme cases involving BOTH extreme pain and a medical prognosis that recovery is impossible, even this may only be done when a person is in the PROCESS of dying, which Terri Schiavo was not. Thank you to Dr. Zycher for that valuable contribution, one which has not been heard publicly from too many Jews, prompting yesterday's very interesting article by David Klinghoffer at National Review Online.

And once we are in that territory, may I point out two very valuable insights from Jewish law that could well have been applied in this case by Judge Greer but were sadly not considered.

1) A karov, i.e. a blood relative, even as far distant as a second cousin, may never testify in a case that affects their relative, whether or not that testimony seems to be beneficial to the relative.

2) A nogayah, i.e. a person with a financial interest in the outcome, may never testify in a way that is beneficial to his or her own interest.

These are two rules of Jewish courtroom procedure. Between them, they would have eliminated all of the testimony presented to the Court concerning Terri's statements of intent.

A Few Thoughts On Terri Schiavo

If only we had credible evidence on this young lady's wishes, both past and present if possible. At the same time, we must confront the situation as it confronts us; in my humble view, the origin of this problem lies with Judge Greer, who---based upon my understanding of the facts---never should have issued a factual finding to the effect that Mrs. Schiavo did not want to be fed through a tube over the long term were she to find herself in a persistent vegetative state. Even the latter premise is not clear, in that---again, as I understand things---she has not had an MRI or PET scan in many years, if ever. Perhaps that ruling was due to bad lawyering on behalf of the woman's parents at the outset; and perhaps Judge Greer should have noted the potential conflict of interest on the part of the husband, particularly after the conclusion of the malpractice lawsuit, and therefore should have appointed another independent guardian ad litem. In any event, the factual finding is what it is, and we have a system in which it is appropriately difficult for appellate jurists to revisit factual issues in the absence of serious procedural error on the part of the finder of fact. Now, given this basic problem with Judge Greer's initial finding, I have heard no persuasive argument to the effect that the Florida courts have ruled inappropriately.

The turn toward the federal courts must hinge upon an argument to the effect that a federal law or right has been violated. And here I have a real problem with those invoking the Americans With Disabilities Act, and other such monstrosities. Do we want to have the courts use unconstitutional laws so as to achieve outcomes that we prefer? I think not. As I understand it, the emergency legislation passed by Congress in a midnight session directed a federal court to undertake a de novo review of the case not in its entirety, but in the context of Mrs. Schiavo's federal rights. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) It seems to me that the federal judge acted far too hastily---the feeding tube should have been reinserted while a serious review proceeded---and that is another source of anguish: Too many of the judges are morons and worse.

Jewish tradition is clear on the distinction between preserving life and delaying death. At a moral level, Mrs. Schiavo is not dying, she is not on life support, she has not received the therapy that she needs and that was promised by her husband during the course of the malpractice lawsuit. Until further medical tests are done, we do not know the precise nature of her condition---even with such tests, there still might prevail continuing disagreement among the physicians---and we certainly do not know her wishes. What we do know is that our civilization depends upon not only the pursuit of outcomes preserving our relationship with the Almighty, but also those preserving our relationship with ourselves. For the same reason that the possibility that some innocents might be executed in a system of capital punishment does not present a powerful argument against it, we simply cannot allow the anguish of such difficult cases to engender rationales for eroding our legal system, regardless of the degree to which the leftists, the death-with-dignity crowd, and the abortion lobby do so as a matter of course. The hypocrisy of the Left in the Schiavo matter is breathtaking; remember Elian Gonzalez? We cannot descend into that pit with them.

I wish we knew Mrs. Schiavo's wishes. I wish that we knew her condition. I wish that we could have greater confidence in her husband's assertions. I wish that Judge Greer had given more thought to his factual findings. I pray that others not find themselves in her situation. But I also wish that our legal system were not so thoroughly corrupted and policitized.

Off to a conference the rest of the week.

Harry Truman Lives!

At the outset of Operation Barbarossa---the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union---Harry Truman observed that if the Germans were winning we should help the Russians, and if the Russians were winning we should help the Germans. Well, we now have animal-loving human-hating totalitarians at PETA attacking the ineffable Jennifer Lopez for her fur collection. Please help me: For whom should I cheer?

Trying to Find the Bottom Line on Terri

A friend (left-wing type) at the university read my American Spectator piece and said it was the most polemical/propagandistic thing he's ever seen me write. I disagree, of course. I think what I've done is render a highly accurate prediction of the direction of euthanasia as a response to the hard facts of Terri Schiavo's case.

Those who read this weblog know that we are divided on the question of what should be happening in Terri's case. Ben Zycher remains undeclared, but the rest of us have offered several opinions and bits of analysis.

Leaving aside the slippery slope, the bottom line is that I am not convinced there is no "Terri" inside the body now being dehydrated/starved. I am not in favor of preserving life no matter what. Part of the reason I am so uncertain is because of Terri's parents and other relatives. They strongly believe she is responsive, no matter how minimally. If that is the case, I don't know how we dare choose death for her.

What about her husband's statement that she didn't want to live this way? It is highly unlikely such a discussion reached an adequate level of detail to reach dehydration/starvation, particularly among ordinary people. I imagine they watched some 20/20 feature story or a movie of the week about a person on life support and Terri said (if she indeed said anything), "I wouldn't want to go on that way." We could safely say that means no ventilator, but no food/water is a bit of a stretch from an off-handed statement by a 20-something in casual conversation.

Alan takes issue with my mention of the Netherlands as a land that has lost its way thanks to its embrace of euthanasia. I think its safe to say they have. Abraham Kuyper's once proud land has given up on a high view of the person's dignity on just about every front, whether that be drugs, sex, reproduction, pre-born life, superannuated life, etc.. As far as Virginia goes, www.euthanasia.com says they have no law permitting assisted suicide. Oregon does, but I'm not sure that's a sign that their moral sensibilities are improving. For more about Switzerland and the Netherlands, follow this link to a worthwhile NRO article by Wesley J. Smith.

The Schiavo Debate

The Terri Schiavo case is nearing its end, it appears, although a federal court has agreed to hear another appeal. It seems unlikely that she will survive the week.

Tempers have run high as the nation has discussed the issue, and the authors of this blog have disagreed (politely, as always) about the meaning of the case. A measure of this passion is the fact that many individuals have repeatedly and disgracefully mischaracterized the positions and statements of those on the other side.

As in the overall national debate, however, it appears to me that the disagreement in the Reform Club has arisen largely over the facts in the case rather than the principles of the situation. One side truly believes that Terri would not have wanted to live this way, that she expressed this clearly to her husband and two other people, and that her husband is simply insisting that her wishes be granted. The other side does not believe that Terri expressed a clear directive that covers the present case. The arguments stem from disagreement over those simple facts.

As a result, I have argued that we need this debate because clarity in the law is essential, and clarity in one’s personal directives likewise necessary.

However, it also appears to me that our varying willingness to believe Michael Schiavo’s claims is perhaps traceable to differences over certain principles we apply to life in general. The issue has brought out furious debates over what life is for, and how we value human lives. Put simply, some are absolutists in the matter, and some are not. Most are unsure, and rely on intuitive responses.

Personally, I am among the latter, the uncertain ones. That is why I have argued for clarity in the law and in individuals’ personal directives regarding these matters.

In the present case, I do not see such clarity. I think both sides have a reasonable case to make. Upon my judgment of the facts, I would greatly prefer to see Terri’s care handed over to her parents, for I strongly doubt that the present case covers what she may have meant when speaking to her husband about some TV movies many years ago.

Yes, the Florida and federal courts have spoken on the matter, but this is the outcome I personally would have wished to see.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Is No Fate Worse Than Death?

The only reason I mentioned my mother in “Death is Rarely Easy” was to demonstrate that death by dehydration is not unique to Terri Schiavo but is, in fact, a common end to many wasting diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS and AIDS, etc. The end result from removing a feeding tube, after all, is the same as from refusing to insert such a tube in the first place.

Geriatric specialists June Lunney and Joanne Lynn, writing in The Washington Post, March 27, noted that Terri Schiavo’s plight is “not unique” but “a common situation.” We don’t know precisely how common, because the cause of death is recorded according to the underlying disease rather than by the refusal to use life support technologies.

I have had living wills in five states which always left the decisions to my spouse rather than my parents (I would have never upset my parents by confiding my views about their own end of life, much less mine).

My latest Advanced Medical Directive empowers my wife to refuse on my behalf “the use of mechanical or other procedures that affect any bodily function, including, but not limited to, artificial respiration, artificially administered nutrition and hydration, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This authorization specifically includes the power to consent to the administration of dosages of pain relieving medication in excess of standard dosages . . . even if such medication . . . inadvertently hastens my death.” The last provision is perfectly legal in Virginia.

Hunter Baker singled out euthanasia law in the Netherlands as symptomatic of collective sin, but he did observe such a slippery slope among the citizens of Virginia, Oregon or Switzerland (where assisted death has been legal since 1937).

I am not arguing that the laws of 44 states against lethal injection are right or wrong. I leave that to the states. I am merely making the factual point that such laws leave many dying persons with no choice but to die slowly though not necessarily painfully (anesthetics are generally effective against pain, as shown during surgery).

My previous entry was about living wills, not euthanasia. I speculated that the reason so many people have been motivated by the Schiavo case to fill out living wills is not because they wish to insist on being kept alive by any means possible under any conceivable circumstance. Nobody has yet questioned that premise, so what does it imply about “what the patient would have wanted for herself” in Terry Schiavo’s case? If Mrs. Schiavo had filled out a living will, what are the odds that her medical directives would have been the exact opposite of most other living wills?

Many people gratuitously accuse her husband (and the Florida courts) of lying about what Terri Schiavo would have wanted, even though many of these same people are openly horrified by the prospect of spending countless decades bedridden, immobile and unable to communicate. In the March 23 The Washington Times Charles Krauthammer wrote that “If I were in Terry Schiavo’s condition I would not want a feeding tube.” On March 26, Tom Sowell wrote in the same paper that he would not “want to be kept alive in Terri’s condition.” He added that he would also not “want to be killed so slowly and painfully.” Yet in all but six U.S. states, however, only the first choice could be part of his living will. In most states anyone who does not want a permanent feeding tube, such as Mr. Sowell and Mr. Krauthammer, has no choice left but to die slowly from dehydration. Those who support laws against physician-assisted death cannot have it both ways – first arguing for criminalizing a “humane way to end life” yet subsequently feigning indignation whenever life does not end humanely.

Also in The Washington Times March 27, William Goldcamp speaks of Mrs. Schiavo’s “ignominious death, one worse than would be permitted a death-row prisoner or a dog.” Yet such ignominy is entirely because most state laws prohibit physicians from making death entirely painless, except for death-row prisoners or dogs. That is, most states hold physicians criminally and civilly liable for the administration of dosages of pain relieving medication in excess of standard dosages even if such medication inadvertently hastens death.

Feeding tubes are not inserted by divine intervention. “Letting nature take its course” does not mean letting physicians do whatever they want. Anyone’s “appointed time” depends on human decisions to resuscitate, to use mechanical methods of assisting breathing or circulation, and/or to rely on a feeding tube.

A “slippery slope” toward widespread euthanasia could be an unintended consequence of one faction’s gross exaggeration of the notion that the absence of a feeding tube toward the end of life is either unusual or terribly cruel. Even for people who are not brain-damaged (Alzheimer’s being a much milder form of brain damage than Mrs. Schiavo's), the inability to eat or drink is not typically agonizing (the body and consciousness just shut down) and medication would be available if it were. If many people actually come to believe the recent hyperbole about the alleged horrors of ending life without a feeding tube, then they are far more likely to demand their living wills permit potentially fatal dosages of pain relieving medication. If their state does not allow that, they may well be prompted to agitate for more permissive laws. Indeed, they may reasonably conclude from Congressional meddling in the Schiavo case that voters have now been encouraged to do such agitating at the federal level.

Although I get there by a very different route, I end up agreeing completely with Sam Karnick’s conclusion: “A broad federal law—or worse yet, an overarching Supreme Court decision based on emanations from the penumbra of the Constitution—would surely be a classic illustration of the adage that hard cases make bad law.”

Zycher and Mighty Powerline

The Powerline Blog, breaker of Dan Rather and one of the most read weblogs around, extensively cites Reform Clubber Ben Zycher in an analytical piece about state laws raising the minimum wage.

Jesse Jackson Can't Take It

I was listening to the radio on the way to the university when I heard Jesse Jackson talking to the press outside of Terri Schiavo's hospice facility.

He spoke of having acted in a ministerial capacity many times near the end of people's lives. He talked about Demerol and removing life support and fairly rapid expirations. Then, the shocker:

"Terri Schiavo has been without food and water for twelve days. They are starving her to death."

The Jesse Jackson who backed off his pro-life views to seek the Democratic Party's nomination so many years ago has decided he is willing to draw a line.

Krugman Lobs the Extremist Bomb AGAIN . . .

Paul Krugman was once known as an economist of some substance. After bashing Bush’s economic policies with no regard to anything approaching clarity or truthfulness, the economist descended to simple polemicism. After taking on Christian conservatives today, Mr. Krugman shows he isn’t even very good at polemics. We’ll buy him a ticket to the Mencken/Twain school of bashing believers if he needs a second career.

I don’t normally pay much attention to “the Krug,” but my friend and colleague Al Beck sent me an email on the latest column in the NYT and gave me permission to post his thoughts here. Mr. Beck is charitable and holds out the hand of friendship even while he expresses his supreme dissatisfaction with the former economist:

If the intent of this piece ("What's Going On?") was to sharpen the divide between religious conservatives (okay, let's be honest--Christian conservatives) and more moderate secularists, then Mr. Krugman has succeeded. By painting all religious conservatives with a broad brush, lumping Israeli terrorists, Muslim fanatics, praying evangelicals, and rosary-twirling grandmothers into the same camp, Krugman goes so far that he is, it seems, guilty of what he so often condemns. He has effectively objectified "the other," in this case conservative Christians, just as Hitler objectified the Jews as "the other" and thus was able to ignore their plight and seek their destruction. Randall Terry may be a pompous windbag, but Krugman's guilt-by-association turns him into something much more frightening, and, it seems, much less real.

Now, the above comparison may not seem fair--Krugman and Hitler as fellow travelers along the road to some sort of modern holocaust. I'm sure that Krugman would be horrified at such a mischaracterization of his beliefs and attitudes, but that's the point. Terry Schiavo's parents, those Christian believers praying in front of Schiavo's nursing home, and the pharmacist or doctor who really believes that she cannot assist in the taking of a human life have about as much in common with Dutch Muslim fanatics and Israeli assassins as Krugman has with Hitler--i.e., nothing at all except a shared humanity that is often prone to evil (as are we all), yet ever hopeful for better things. But, as the head of the Christian Coalition once declared (and I'm speaking of Jesus and not Pat Robertson, of course)--"You hypocrite, first cast out the beam from your own eye; and then shall you see clearly so as to to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye." Let us not be too quick to do to others what we accuse them of doing to us. In seeking a humane and just society, Krugman would do much better to get to know the conservative believers who walk among us, who live next door to us, and share our fundamental values of peace, justice, and the dignity of human life.

Business Ethics and Cultural Evolution

A very interesting article in today's New York Times explores the new fervor among U.S. corporations for ethics standards. Companies are holding their employees to much higher standards of personal and business behavior, the article says, now that so many firms have been hit hard by scandalous personal conduct and incidents of corporate malfeasance.

Rather predictably, the Times article claims that firms are being driven solely by self-interest, "now that boards and chief executives have seen how public scandals can torpedo stock prices, alienate customers and end careers." Several business analysts are quoted as objecting to what they call a New Puritanism among corporations, which they say is driven by panic and fear.

What is particularly interesting is that neither the author nor anyone quoted in the article suggested that the more rigorous standards for business ethics could have any ties whatever to broader social and cultural trends in the country.

However, it seems absurdly unlikely that there is no connection between the two. I have written in the past about the changes in moral and social standards that occurred in the United States in the half-century after World War II, and I believe that business ethics began to become more relaxed just as other standards did during that period. But whereas the general culture reached a tipping point, where the changes became undeniable, in the 1960s, in the business realm the difference did not become quite so noticeable until the 1980s—as the generation raised during the postwar era began to come to power in the business world.

Just as new, more latitudinarian cultural assumptions filtered into the business world during the half-century after WWII, it appears that the new, more restrictive social and moral standards of our time are starting to have their effect on U.S. businesses now. If the Times article is correct, and the "new puritanism" is merely a response to recent scandals, then we can expect a return to more lax standards of behavior as soon as the heat is off. If I am right and the changes in business ethics are part of a long-term cultural trend, we should expect to see the standards continue to tighten.

Youth Think So?

Visitors to this venue will recall that I periodically return to a personal bugaboo: the importance of not allowing your child to accelerate too rapidly through the school system, to the point where social alienation becomes fairly inevitable.

Today I explore this theme for the readers of The American Spectator.

Monday, March 28, 2005

End-of-Life Disputes: Who Should Decide?

The repercussions from the Terri Schiavo case have just begun. That is so, of course, because the main issue remains undecided: what the state should do when a person’s guardians and loved ones are in dispute over what should be done in dire medical situations if the individual has left no clear, written instructions.

The question, of course, will be whether the issues are best handled at the state or federal level. I am inclined to favor state autonomy in the matter, even though the Florida courts and legislature seem to have dropped the ball on this one, the latter in creating laws too ambiguous to handle the sorts of difficult cases they were evidently meant to deal with, and the former in refusing to consider many issues brought up in the appeal.

The worst job, however, clearly was done by the lawyers engaged by Terri Schiavo’s parents, in failing to bring up important matters during the original court proceedings, which allowed the appeals court to ignore the arguments later. (It is important to note, however, that the Florida courts did not have to ignore these arguments but chose to do so, albeit with perfectly good legal justification).

The role of government in these matters ought to be quite clear: to adjudicate conflicts between competing interests. In all such cases, clarity in the laws is essential.

My preference is that such decisions be made as close to the source as possible. (I should note here that I was not one of the writers who called for congressional action in the Schiavo case.) First, there is the choice to be made by the individual. In this case, that means a well-written living will or similar document. Failing that, the decision should be made by the person’s guardian, if any, and immediate family. The problem in the Schiavo case, of course, was that there was no agreement among the family on what Terri’s wishes would have been, nor on what was best for her.

If no consensus can be reached among the family, then of course the government must intervene. The medical community, in my view, should not be the actual decision maker, and should follow two rules: first, do no harm (which precludes any active participation in euthanasia in any form); and second, execute the wishes of the individual or family. If the family’s wishes conflict with the first rule, the person should be removed from medical care and the agreed-upon treatment should be administered.

To do otherwise would risk corrupting the medical profession severely.

Of course, given the publicity surrounding the Schiavo case, the press is on for federal legislation.

An article in today’s New York Times noted, “some Democrats, prodded by advocates for the disabled, say Congress should consider whether [a law allowing the federal courts to review disputed cases like that of Terri Schiavo] is needed."

On the ABC-TV program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Massachusetts representative Barney Frank (D) said, "I think we should look into this and very possibly legislate it," although he had opposed the more narrowly targeted law Congress passed regarding the Schiavo case. Frank said, "I think Congress needs to do more. Because I've spoken with a lot of disability groups who are concerned that, even where a choice is made to terminate life, it might be coerced by circumstances."

The Times article noted that the two groups pressing for legislative action on the matter— Christian conservatives and advocates for the disabled—have not gotten along very well in the past, and are taking conflicting approaches: “it is unclear whether Christian conservatives and disability rights advocates can agree on what action Congress should take. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group, said on Sunday that his organization was working with states to urge them to pass measures that would prevent the withdrawal of nutrition from patients like Ms. Schiavo.

“Mr. Perkins said state action was ‘the preferred route,’ adding, ‘In certain circumstances there may need to be some federal action, but I would not advocate a broad brush stroke of the federal government to try to prevent this from happening again.’

The approach that Perkins suggests is the right one, in my view. A broad federal law—or worse yet, an overarching Supreme Court decision based on emanations from the penumbra of the Constitution—would surely be a classic illustration of the adage that hard cases make bad law. And this was a very hard case indeed.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Cleaning Up After the Show . . .

Alan brought up the critique that conservative-libertarians usually prefer that decision-making be as localized as possible in order to restrain the growth of centralized power. It's a good critique. We remain mindful of it. However, conservatives (and libertarians, I think) are also quite attached to slippery-slope arguments. I'll go out on a limb and try to portray the angle of this one for our readers and writers.

1. America watches Terri Schiavo die over a prolonged period from dehydration/starvation.

2. More attention is paid by everyone to things like living wills and other legal instruments. More commonly, husbands and wives will be explicit with each other about detailed situations.

3. Many will stop and ask, why did Terri have to die of dehydration? Why couldn't she have been well-cared for to the end and finally delivered via an overdose of morphine or some other quick, painless finisher?

4. The euthanasia movement will gain significant momentum.

5. Assisted suicide will either be legalized in a significant portion of the states or the Supreme Court will federalize the issue as they have abortion.

6. America attains the moral status of say, the Netherlands.

Whether this is a pretty picture or not depends on your own moral compass. I'm concerned about where the slope will lead us. I can easily envision euthanasia being actively urged for imperfect infants of all kinds. The Down Syndrome children who aren't already killed in utero via programs to "reduce birth defects" will now be wiped out en masse in their first 10 days of life as parents take the easy way out. We'll start hearing about post-euthanasia parents just like we hear about post-abortive women. Our moral fiber will continue to weaken as we dispose of our challenges instead of growing through them.

Chaos Of The Soul

If folks will forgive me, I will ramble a bit on the Terri Schiavo case.

First of all, kudos to Ralph Nader for being on the right side of this one. His most cogent point is this: there is no law in the world that can allow a court to order that a person not be fed by hand. Even if a feeding tube is deemed to be "life support" (and, may I remind everyone that in the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan, after the family won the right to remove her from the respirator, she lived nine more years - i.e. it never occurred to anyone to remove her feeding tube), giving food and water by hand certainly is not. There is no power in the Constitution or elsewhere to allow a person to be denied food and water by hand.

Sadly, I don't think that it ever occurred to the attorneys to make a separate filing to a federal judge to ask for permission to feed by hand since the state judge's injunction is illegal on its face. If indeed she cannot take nourishment in this way, then she will die, but if she can, she will be saved.

Does any State have the right to execute a serial killer with a hundred dismembered victims by denying him food and water? Of course not. It would be cruel and inhuman punishment. (This point was made by attorney Jack Thompson in his memo to Governor Bush).

I have no strength to continue. This is a horror to me, and I feel betrayed by every concept and institution that I took to be a bulwark and a buttress.