Sunday, April 24, 2005

Cause of Death: Bad Reasoning

The debate over ending Terry Shiavo’s life was totally off point while she was actually alive. It is possible that it can be pulled back to the point now that she’s dead?

One of the reasons offered by proponents of her death for starving her was that she had expressed a desire while she was of sound mind “not to live that way.” But the fact that she expressed this wish is completely irrelevant to the decision about whether to pull her feeding tube.

In what other circumstance do we allow a person to have their life taken by someone else because the other person said at some previous time that they wouldn’t want to “live that way”? Suppose someone said to her husband, after driving through a poor part of town, “I sure wouldn’t want to live that way”? Does that mean that at some later point, when the family falls on hard financial times, and, say, has to move to a less luxurious home, the husband is justified in taking her life because he can establish that his wife had expressed this wish?

Of course not.

I have known my wife for 30 years now. When we were in high school, my musical taste tended toward the music of the more head-banging variety—the kind, in fact, that is popular today. Since then, my tastes have changed (I would say, “matured”). I used to make fun of the more civilized music my wife listened to. Now, every once it an while, I’ll make a remark about some song she used to like, and I’ll say, “You know, that’s a pretty good song.” Having noticed this trend, she now makes fun of me. She’ll say, “Pretty soon you’ll be saying you like Lawrence Welk.” And every time she says this, I say, “If I ever start liking Lawrence Welk, shoot me.”

Now let’s say that at some future date, I’m flipping the channels around on the television, and I see an old rerun of the Lawrence Welk Show, and I say, “You know, that’s pretty good stuff.” What if, upon hearing the remark, she calmly walked upstairs, got the gun, and took me out? Would the people who have been defending the starvation of Terri Shiavo say that was okay too?

One would hope not. They would say that is a different case because taking out feeding tube is not the same thing as actively killing someone. But that’s the whole point—what the whole debate is about: whether taking out someone’s feeding tube is actively killing someone.That’s what the discussions should have discussed, not extraneous arguments like whether she said she “wouldn’t want to live that way.