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Schiavo

Under an entry of the same title, Greg Swann comes forth with an argument that’s counter to mine (here and here) and other similar arguments. Greg knows that I take everything he writes very seriously, as well I do this piece. But, this time, I have to say that I think he’s wrong. To be clear, I don’t think anyone is wrong to prefer that Terri Schiavo remain incapacitated as she’s been for 15 years. I do think it’s wrong, however, for those with the authority and responsibility, to not respect her wishes and to carry them out. Failing explicit knowledge of precisely what her wishes were or would have been in this situation, then I think it’s wrong for anyone to prevent her husband from carrying out his wishes in the matter.

I am stoutly opposed to "sanctioned" violence in any form, with the only exception being where to fail to act with immediate force will result in even greater injury.

That’s a different formulation than the standard non-initiation of force principle I’m familiar with. I confess that I’ve not seen it before, but I think I get it. What this does is deliver the classic principle of not initiating force with the added caveat that you shouldn’t, in “defensive retaliation,” shoot someone dead for running off with your lunch money—believing it righteous, well, because he initiated force—as if any initiation of force, no matter how small or insignificant, justifies up-to-and-including the death penalty against the perpetrator.

But I also think there’s a context problem in Greg’s absolute stand. Can there not be some allowance for intent? What about professional boxing, for example? It’s hard not to describe it as violent, and indeed, the intent is to do real physical harm by means of that violence. Moreover, there’s no potential greater injury by abstaining from boxing—much as that potential for greater injury exists in abstaining from a necessary surgical procedure where significant “precision violence” might be done.

This may be splitting hairs, but if you’re going to use the principle of non-initiation of force to argue against situations where “violence” is being done to someone per their own wishes, then I don’t think it’s obtuse to raise an example such as boxing. There may be other or better examples, but only one need suffice to undercut any claim to absolute authority in this matter.

Greg then raises the abortion issue as perhaps the root justification for the way the Schiavo case has played out. But I don’t think I really need to get into that, much. If indeed it’s the quintessential wedge working against the sort of celebration of human life that ultimately leads to Greg’s Hellenic civilization (which I endorse), then I think we’re all doomed, because abortion is a worldwide practice and I don’t see it changing, until, as I’ve said before, contraception becomes free, effortless (if you catch my drift), and foolproof. I believe that abortion is an inextricable and universal aspect of human culture. It aint never gonna change, so I don’t see any point in fighting against it (not that I would want to, anyway).

First, in the world as libertarians idealize it, there would be no circumstance under which a state could "justly" harm an innocent homo sapiens.

But we don’t live in an idealized libertarian world. In such a world, for many libertarians, the state would not exist as we know it and so this point is moot. Whether or not we exist with the state around our necks, the key identification is not who, but what. That is, if justice is done, I’m less concerned with who has carried it out than I am the fact of the matter. So, as concerns Schiavo, I think we need to first determine if the outcome being sought is a just one. If it is, then it doesn’t matter, really, who enforces it.

Second, in the world as it exists now, if Terri Shiavo’s husband sought to kill her with his own hands, he would certainly be prosecuted for murder by the State of Florida.

Indeed; or, in a libertarian society, someone other than the state might prevent him or punish him after the fact. But if killing Terry Schiavo (and, no, I’m not going to make meaningless distinctions between “killing” and “letting die” in this context) is just, then it doesn’t matter. The state does an injustice by preventing or punishing him.

This establishes the proper libertarian political position in this matter: It’s none of the state’s damn business, not on either side, not at any level of government.

I agree, but the state has asserted its business into the matter, and that’s the reality we’re (unfortunately) dealing with.

Another bogus argument being propagated by seemingly thoughtful people, an advanced symptom of the Communist ploy cited above, is this claim:

No one would want to live in that state.

Why is this specious? Because the words are a canard, a decoy intended to disguise the true claim:

No one who actually is alive in that state would want to live.

This is clearly false to fact, both in the instant case and universally. If you poke Terri Schiavo with a knitting needle–which, unlike giving her water, is probably lawful–she will demonstrate that, to the extent that she is capable of expressing wants, she wants to live. The invalid move in "no one would want to live" is the substitution of a claimed hypothetical desire now, without any risks or consequences, for actual expressed desire later, in the actual imagined future circumstances.

Later, Greg finishes with the statement, “And the victim is not ever a volunteer.” I don’t see how such a blanket statement could be made. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the argument, but this suggest to me that a person’s involuntary recoil, fight-or-flight reflex is somehow equivalent or to be taken with the same weight as their conscious, thoughtful decisions and wishes. I think another simple example serves to invalidate this claim. Try poking someone with a knitting needle who’s just about to blow his own brains out with a gun (if you dare). People commit suicide every day—some for perfectly rational reasons—but they are making a choice as to the time, place, and method. If they recoil because you poke them, I don’t think it’s any evidence that they really want to live. Obviously they don’t.

I can’t claim my experience is universal, because I haven’t spoken with everyone, but I indeed cannot find a single person who’s willing to tell me, unequivocally, that given similar circumstances, their wish now, even remotely, is that they would want to be kept "alive" indefinitely. And if not indefinitely, then how long? No, without exception, every single person I have spoken with would wish to be “let go” (killed) once it was competently determined that no hope existed for anything approaching a productive life.

Given that, and given her husband’s sworn declaration, I believe that Ms. Schiavo’s and her husband’s legitimate wishes—their rights—have been intruded upon and violated for fifteen years. The state, at the engineering of Ms. Schiavo’s parents and other relatives (and, let me say, she never chose any of them; she chose her husband), have perpetuated and prolonged this injustice. While it’s true that it’s none of the state’s business, I can hardly complain if the state is now in the process of marginally undoing an injustice it has been conducting for fifteen years.

…people in Terri Schiavo’s circumstances very clearly do want to live, and it is twice obscene to claim that the allegedly "sanctioned" murder of an innocent homo sapiens is allegedly "justified" by the victim’s alleged past desires.

Why? First, I don’t think it’s at all "clear" that people in her circumstance “want to live.” They have involuntary reflexes, but that’s no evidence at all that they want to live in that circumstance. If they were conscious in the human sense, they would certainly express their desire to live a normal life, but then all this is moot. According to the overwhelming preponderance of medical evidence, Terri Schiavo does not presently want anything, if "wanting" is taken to mean "a conscious act" in the human sense of the word. She’s not conscious in the human sense, for if she were, she would communicate via eye blinking. Given that, it’s not only justified to carry out her past wishes, but it is wrong for those with the authority (her husband) not to see to them. To his credit, he’s been trying to do that for fifteen years.

If you want Terri Schiavo–or your ailing Grandma–dead, then kill her yourself. But call things by their right names. The act is murder. The actor is a murderer. And the victim is not ever a volunteer.

Again, why? If she has the authority as a human being to set out wishes for her own disposition when incapacitated (and why should a human being not be able to do that with the comfort and confidence that those wishes will be carried out?), then what does it matter who carries them out? In fact, if her husband actually did want to carry out these wishes personally, then I’d suspect his motives and would question his declaration. Only if there was no alternative in the world would you expect a spouse to be willing to do such a thing—and even then, it would be rare.

Some people are incapable of killing, dressing, and butchering their own meat (I am, and have done so). They are no less deserving of such spoils if able to have someone else voluntarily do it for them.

I believe that labeling the actors in this scenario “murderers” really dilutes the concept and meaning of actual murder. It’s a killing, to be sure, but we already know that there are categories of justified killing, as well as unjustified killing (manslaughter). These are valuable concepts. Let’s not wipe them out. There’s no malicious intent here—at least not that many, many courts have been able to detect, and I tend to trust their circumspectness in such matters.

I do agree with one implication of Greg’s argument, however, which is that we ought not sugar-coat it. It’s a killing, plain and simple, and when that’s determined to be the proper course of action, it should be done actively, by lethal injection or some such mechanism. That’s how you put a human-check on it—as concerns both those deciding now what they want for themselves in similar circumstances, as well as for the actors who’ll be charged with seeing to it.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

3 Comments

  1. Lute on March 29, 2005 at 10:10

    "….“let go” (killed) once it was competently determined that no hope existed for anything approaching a productive life."

    Many people who live in assisted care, nursing homes or convelescent hospitals. Since these folks are non-productive, should they be killed because they are are burden to the family and society?

  2. Z.Z.B. on March 29, 2005 at 09:35

    Excellent piece. I find myself as an independent and liberatian in alignment with your analysis of this national spectical. Which by the way would be no spectacle at all if not for the conflict between parents and husband. — Nice job…

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  3. Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2005 at 10:31

    It would depend on what they themselves want, if able to express their wishes. If unable to express their wishes, then it goes to what they would have wanted, if that can reasonably be determined.

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