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March 24, 2005

The Left and Terri Schiavo

In an open letter to progressive bloggers, Dave exhorts us to, well, see the forest in the Schiavo case.

You're nitpicking details and ignoring the larger narrative. They are "trying to save this poor woman." They are "defending this poor woman's family." Meanwhile, you are pointing out discrepancies in the finer details. "What about her husband?" you ask when they talk about her parents. "She can't feel pain," you say, when they accuse Democrats of starving her to death. How many people hear that they are trying to save this poor woman? Everyone. How many people, over time, will pay attention to the nitpicking details?

...

We're arguing the details of their lies instead of reaching the broader, general public with a larger narrative that reinforces public acceptance of the benefits of underlying Progressive values.

I'm inclined to agree. But you know how we got into this position? Because we ignored this case for too long. We were vaguely aware that Jeb Bush was raising some kind of Orc army in Florida. But we didn't give it much thought.

The "leftist murderer" meme predated any sustained progressive interest in the Schiavo case. In retrospect it seems obvious that the right hand-picked the helpless Terri Schiavo as a vector for their hate. Her case was perfect: tragic and doomed. For now, she's a good excuse to pontificate about the sanctity of life. Soon, her death will be conveniently blamed on murderous liberals.

In the spirit of seeing the forest, here are some plot points for the larger narrative:

1. Liberals are the champions of the weak. The weakest members of our society have as much right to make decisions about their medical care as the strongest, loudest bullies. That's why liberals support the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial process.

2. Liberals know that it's wrong to ram a tube into an unconsenting woman's body. But "no" doesn't mean no in the culture of life. Listen to how the pro-tubers talk about Terri. They just know that she's asking for it. They swear it's for her own good. She said "no," but she didn't really mean it. There is a slippery slope here, but it's not the slope from refusing medical treatment to the wholesale elimination of the lame. It's the slope that starts with "erring on the side of life" and slips towards state oversight of biological functions (especially the reproductive ones).

3. Florida isn't a slave state. It is supremely offensive to suggest that Michael Schiavo should give Terri back to her parents. He's not Terri's owner, he's her husband and her guardian. There is clear and convincing evidence that Terri didn't want a tube. There is no evidence that she'd want to be intubated, divorced, and shipped home to mommy, daddy and their creepy cabal of quacks and itinerant friars. Notice the subtext: Terri's desire to control her own body doesn't matter, nice girls sacrifice their dignity to spare the feelings of others.

4. The Schiavo case is about basic fairness. It's about how everyone ought to play by the same rules. No special dispensations, no do-overs, no trials by legislation for the favored few.

5. If anyone needs a sister Souljah moment, it's the pro-tube faction. If the Schindlers are decent people, they will distance themselves from the murderous zealots who threaten the lives of judges. However, nothing in their previous behavior leads me to expect that they will stand on principle. They are more than happy to ruin Michael Schiavo's life with unsubstantiated rumors of abuse, and even attempted murder. They care so little for their daughter's memory or her marriage that they are willing to use the intimate details of her marriage as ammunition, they schemed to parade her contorted body before Congress.

6. The left stands for reason over emotion. Principle over passion. Compassion over cheap sentimentality. And most importantly, for universality. We care about making the system better for everyone. The Schindlers have elevated themselves to the status of holy victims. They are narcissists who believe that their anguish takes precedence over all moral and legal principles. Progressives want to protect Medicare so that all Americans have health care options. We recoil at the Texas "Futile Care Act" because we believe that intimate medical decisions should be made by patients, their families, and caring doctors, not by cash-strapped institutions. And unlike the right wing, we're willing to put our money where our mouth is.

7. The left has the audacious pro-life attitude that healthcare and medical research are more important than tax cuts for the rich. Gawdy spectacle is cheap, but saving lives is expensive. On the left we care about life beyond reality TV.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Left and Terri Schiavo:

» Storming the Hospice from Kieran Healy's Weblog
Bloggers with more patience than me have been dealing with the tragic story of Terri Schiavo. Lindsay Beyerstein has been... [Read More]

» Reason and Compassion from Fallenmonk
It boils down to valuing reason over emotion and recognizing that there are practical limits to everything. [Read More]

» What She Said about Terri Schiavo from Grubbykid.com :: Links
What She Said about Terri Schiavo... [Read More]

» Schiavo from The Great Whatsit
I keep wanting to post on the Schiavo case and the role of emotionality in American politics and culture, but for now let me just direct you to these spot-on comments about how liberals should be talking about the issue. "Jeb Bush was raising some kin... [Read More]

» http://WWW.markarkleiman.com/archives/_/2005/03/.php from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Her body, her self from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Her body, her self from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Terri Schiavo Is Not An Object from Agnosticism/Atheism
A common question we hear from the Christian Right is why not just give Terri Schiavo to her parents, the Schindlers. Michael Schiavo won't have to deal with her, the Schindlers get to keep her, and everyone will be happy.... [Read More]

» Her body, her self from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Terri Schiavo shouldn't be "given back to her parents" because she isn't property. [Read More]

» Persons, corpses, and toasters from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Can it really be true that Steven Landsburg can't tell the difference? [Read More]

» Persons, corpses, and toasters from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Can it really be true that Steven Landsburg can't tell the difference? [Read More]

» Persons, corpses, and toasters from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Can it really be true that Steven Landsburg can't tell the difference? [Read More]

Comments

I believe that Kevin meant to say that his post follows my post.

Dan Schneider wrote, Why the hell do you think so many college educated moderates decided to trust Bush?

People who supported Bush generally did so for one of three reasons:
(i) They're far-right wackjobs.
(ii) They relatively wealthy and like the tax cuts.
(iii) They have been mislead by Bush et al. on Al Qaeda, Iraq, etc, and believe (based on no evidence) that the Republicans are better on national security.

C'mon, if you're gonna rip the wickedry on the other side you have to make sure your side is clean. It's not. The arts are also dominated by toxic Leftists- which are wholly different from true liberals in a libertarian live and let live sense.

And, overall, the arts have how large an impact on society and the economy?

Sure, there are weirdo leftist academicians for example. I, for one, loved the Sokal spoof. But how much influence do lit crit (etc) departments have? How much funding do they get? Compare that to departments that lean right (economics, business, engineering).

There's another point. While I think a lot of what "our" fringe says is silly, if the fringe goes away, then the entire spectrum moves that much further right. With the fringe in place, someone examining the range of e.g. environmental beliefs/policy recommendations will look at "reasonable" environmentalists and see them as non-fringe elements. Remove the fringe, and they're now themselves fringe, regardless of the merits of their views.

I don't have a statistical summary in front of me, but I'll wager that liberals/leftists make many more utterances policing/bemoaning their fringe than those on the right do.

We have to partly base our politics on what works based on the fact that we're humans, with human rhetoric, social structures, and so on.

Movie Guy (but possibly actually Kevin Ballie) wrote, If there is any expectation that future technology can repair my body, and if suspended animation is available, suspend my body for future repair.

Not possible in the Schiavo case, if reports that her cortex is dead/nearly entirely dead are true. Many people suffer from the delusion that stem cell transplants could someday repair her cortex. This belies a complete lack of understanding of neuroscience and lack of intuition of what's scientically and technologically possible.

Furthermore, what you propose would, if done en masse, bankrupt the economy.

And why can't you direct the medical authorities to end my life in the same manner that we end the lives of our cherished pets at vet clinics? (because it's illegal...at the moment)

It's not merely illegal "at the moment." Feel free to disagree with the merits of the position, but the distinction between withholding support/nourishment/etc and taking a positive action to cause death is, to many people, not a trivial one.

Jesus christ you people are stupid. I'm sorry. The left does not stand for reason any more then the right does. In order for the left to say in a principled way for truth, they would have to push to amend the constitution to limit advertising, especially that directed at children, push for an end to the war on drugs, restructure corporations, dismantle nuclear weapons, etc. No one on the left wants to do that.

In order for the left to say in a principled way for truth, they would have to push to amend the constitution to limit advertising, especially that directed at children, push for an end to the war on drugs, restructure corporations, dismantle nuclear weapons, etc. No one on the left wants to do that.

Maybe if you define "the left" as the Democratic Party. But what you say sounds good to me and I've always thought of myself as leftish. What term do you propose for those that support your proposals?

Liberal

"Movie Guy (but possibly actually Kevin Ballie) wrote, If there is any expectation that future technology can repair my body, and if suspended animation is available, suspend my body for future repair."

Kevin didn't write my post. Ask Linsay to verify or go over to Kevin's web site and ask him.
-----

"Furthermore, what you propose would, if done en masse, bankrupt the economy."

This is being done already on a limited basis. Whether it works is a different question. If my personal estate can fund the process, then it's my choice to put such a provision in a living will or other legal document. So, there is no bankruptcy of the economy if individuals pay the costs. If we could all afford the process, and all of us elected to do it, we wouldn't cost the government any money. In fact, we would be helping fund the economy.

-----
"And why can't you direct the medical authorities to end my life in the same manner that we end the lives of our cherished pets at vet clinics? (because it's illegal...at the moment)

It's not merely illegal "at the moment." Feel free to disagree with the merits of the position, but the distinction between withholding support/nourishment/etc and taking a positive action to cause death is, to many people, not a trivial one."

When a court orders or a guardian directs that all means of food nurishment is to be deprived from one's human body, the result is death. A legally directed death.

If those who direct an action resulting in death of a patient are so humane, then they can go to the next step. Offer/provide the most painless method of achieving the patient's death. Starvation is not the most expedient method of achieving the legally required death.

For any to pretend that starvation is humane is ridiculous.

If starvation is preferred over a more humane method of accomplishing the directed death decision, then we're a poor excuse for a society or tribe. Civiled behavior? No.


My first time here. You and I are thinking exactly the same way; why did we drop the ball on this?

Jeff,

Good question.

It makes me wonder why we don't just let death row prisoners starve to death. Inhumane, right?

We're just not thinking with a full deck.

Linsay has a related post that she put up later.

http://majikthise.typepad.com/majikthise_/2005/03/idevouti_wimp_.html#comments

God, I read all the comments and didn't see anyone make the point: the left shouldn't stand for reason over emotion or principle over passion. The left should stand for the point that they are false choices. Emotion and passion aren't bad. They're only flawed when they are not in the presence of reason or principle. If y'all are looking at unreasonable emotion, or unprincipled passion, and automatically seeing the cure as reason OVER emotion and passion OVER principle, you've got a pretty insidious bias you should start dealing with, pronto.

Sorry to intrude... I'm here from Jane Galt, through a couple of intervening links. In the spirit of public discourse, I want to provide the mainstream (not fundamentalist Christian) Other Side's view of the very same issues you raise. Taking Majikthise's points one by one:

1. Championing the weak: obviously the Other Side (me) believes that it is championing the weak here. Following the money, Michael Schiavo was not the "weak" once the malpractice settlement was awarded, and Terri Schindler Schiavo became the "weak" at the point where Michael then decided to sign a DNR for her based on her wishes as he reconstructed them. I am not going to go the "extra mile" and claim that he made them up for his own profit, but honest questions do exist concerning those wishes.

2. We of the Other Side see the slippery slope running the other way. We start from the same point: an uncommunicative and probably non-cognitive woman with a feeding tube. We see pulling the feeding tube while the woman's wishes have been the source of deep conflict as the step onto the slippery slope that encompasses physician-assisted suicide and ultimately, (gulp) euthanasia for those of low societal worth, as practiced by those people we can't mention without invoking Godwin's Law. We don't embrace the slippery-slope argument as a given - we don't believe that that first step onto the slope will inevitably result in the crash at the bottom - but that's the direction we see it descending, and we're deeply troubled by going in that direction. You see it descending the other way, from forcing medical treatment on an uncommunicative and probably non-cognitive woman who may not have wanted it, to government control of everyone's body, something none of us has seen anywhere in the world as far as I know. (For one thing, the gov't simply doesn't have the resources...)

3. Florida isn't a slave state, that's right. And a wife should not be considered her husband's chattel any more than she should be considered her parents' property (nor do I know of any case, in Florida or elsewhere, in which the parent-child relationship was considered an owner-slave relationship, at least beyond middle school age.) The Schiavos shared their lives for some six or eight years - I don't know when they started dating. The Schindlers gave birth to Terri, raised her, "gave" her to her husband in the traditional sense in which parents consider that they "give" their children to their adult partners, and after her collapse, resumed their efforts to care for her as their valued child, while Michael, understandably enough, cared for her as long as we could expect a young and vital man to do so, then moved on with his life, apparently beginning to see her as a burden at least as much as the wife of his youth.

4. We actually agree on this point. Many of us on the Other Side are deeply disappointed that the Feds stepped in, and we don't credit the claims by some on Our Side that because Clinton did it we can too, but the 14th Amendment certainly puts the question of even one individual's life in the purview of the Federal government. I must point out at this time that nothing illegal has been done: questioning the court is not illegal. Passing a law is not illegal. Repeated appeals are not illegal. That all this activity has been to benefit only one person is strange, and actually not altogether true as I think will become clear after this poor woman is dead, but it's not illegal; it falls under the Teddy Roosevelt standard, perhaps.

5. I think the Schindlers have other things on their minds besides who their perceived allies are. Possibly their more mainstream allies ought to be doing this work for them. But to the point of caring so little for their daughter's memory or marriage, please examine your postulates: which party has shown deeper disrespect for the Schiavo marriage, by his actions? The gambit to have Terri appear before Congress was obviously just that - a desperate gambit, that would have prolonged her life a few more weeks while other legal means could be tried; surely you realize that. Surely you must realize it.

6. I'm sorry; this point, concerning reason over emotion and universality above all, has a rather hollow ring from My Side. Points other commenters here have made concerning the influence of your own radical wing in academia, for instance, speak rather to the opposite view: that feeling good or "right" about something, and expressing that feeling correctly, appears from My Side to be more important to Your Side than actual reason or universality of application.

7. Caring about life "beyond reality TV" is something else that we agree on. You and we differ in our approach. On My Side, this single life is worth a last chance. On Your Side, the importance of this single life is that it end without further disrespectful challenge and indignity, after all these years, because her husband, his brother, his sister-in-law, and a friend say it would have been this life's owner's wish, though other witnesses disagree. (I should probably have stated that more diplomatically, but it seems that there's a gap in the abstractappeal.com statement about who testified as to Terri's wishes.) On My Side, abortion is a tragedy that ends a life (FWIW, I'm one of those first-trimester "hybrids" that My Side has so many of); on Your Side, abortion is a procedure that may deliver an already-viable life from difficult or even impossible straits. From My Side, the prospect of national health care hasn't yet been presented in a plan that would result in anything better than Britain's National Health, which is clearly sub-par by US standards; from Your Side, it appears to me that stating the goal is considered sufficient.

The Other point of view, brought to you by... me, in the interests of demonstrating that it's possible to start from the same place but diverge greatly on the way to the end.

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