Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Column on Terri Schiavo's Sad Saga

Terri Schiavo?s Sad Saga

Tibor R. Machan

By the time this is being read, Terri Schiavo may have died. But she is
virtually dead now, or so it has been reported by several doctors who
should know. The situation isn?t so unfamiliar to many of us who have had
relatives who have become nearly dead or brain dead and whose life amounts
to little more than a forcibly induced condition.

I am now old enough to have made my will instructing that if I ever reach
such a state, I do not want anyone to prolong my mere survival. Why?

Well, to begin with, I do not believe in imposing the cost of any such
procedure on my relatives, let alone on total strangers. There is
certainly no moral--and there should be no legal?duty for the latter to
provide me with life supports, period, however much the ?laws? of my
community disagrees with me on this. The law is just wrong when it coerces
others to serve someone with such?or indeed any other?support. How dare
impose such burdens on people who didn?t sign up for the task of their own
free will? That is grossly unjust.

In the Terri Schiavo case the matter is clearly complicated by the fact
that hardly anyone dares bring up the issue of who is supposed to pay for
all this support. But it is plain that if the parents want to do so, let
them?her husband should relinquish his role as next of kin since no one is
taking it seriously anyway. His report of Terri?s own choice to let her
die if the current situation is to arise is apparently treated as
irrelevant for many who are chiming in on the case, even though by all
rights it is he, for better or for worse, who should have that authority.
Well, if he is not allowed to exercise this authority, he should just let
the parents take over the care of poor Terri. (I am not privy to all the
legal complications but that is what seems to me the decent way to handle
it. Certainly if I were in Terri?s position and someone, say a devoted
student of my philosophical works, wanted to keep me going, I would not
expect my children to refuse, although they should not be held responsible
for an
y of the burdens this would create.)

I believe much of the trepidation about Terri?s fate has to do with this
misguided notion that society?that is to say, other persons?must finance
anyone?s life support system. Unless she got sufficient medical insurance
to pay for her continued support, it isn?t justified that she be gaining
the support from people who do not want to provide it. It may appear to be
heartless?which, by the way, it isn?t?but no one owes another to serve
them unless there is an explicit or at least clearly implicit agreement to
that effect in force.

No doubt there are people all around who disagree, who believe that other
people?s need counts as a justification for conscripting unwilling
strangers to provide help. Well, that is to endorse slavery, or at least
involuntary servitude. Slaves, too, were thought to owe their lives and
labors to their masters, not to themselves. Conscripts, too, are robbed of
their will to live as they choose usually because the people who control
the government believe they are entitled to make them serve a goal they
believe is very important.

Free men and women, however, are not owned by anyone other than
themselves. Nor is their labor, nor their resources, available, morally
speaking, to be seized by others, even those who are in dire straits. That
is the price of liberty?not being able to take from others what others
refuse to give of their own free will.

Alas, neither conservatives nor liberals in the USA care much about these
elementary matters today. Never mind that the fundamental political
document of this country, the Declaration of Independence, spelled out the
idea clearly and unambiguously?namely, that each and every human being has
an unalienable right to his or her life and liberty and pursuit of
happiness (among other rights). This means that others may not take their
lives, infringe on their liberties unless permission from them has been

However much even millions may desire that Terri Schiavo be provided with
more time, so that some miracle might make her recover, it should not
occur at the expense of the lives and liberties of people who haven?t
volunteered for this task.