Right to Life
By dcb on Mar 21, 2005
Mike Duigou got me thinking about the whole "Right to Life" topic. So has CNN. Allow me to post a brief personal commentary on this important subject.
First of all, it seems self-evident to me (and the founders of our nation and our universe) that humans have an inalienable right to life. Webster defines inalienable as "incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred". Here are some foundational texts that support this concept and upon which our national identity and our laws and our ethics are based:
Declaration of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Constitution of the United States of America
Amendment V & XIV: No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...
The Hippocratic Oath (has provided moral guidance to physicians for 2500 years)
I will not give a fatal draught (read: deadly drug) to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing. Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion.
The Holy Bible (King James Version)
Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill. (read: murder)
There are also several reasonable and legitimate ways in which our legal system provides for exemptions to an individual's right to life. For example, a person may choose to waive that right (eg: a living will, voluntary assisted suicide) and have their life terminated by another. Or that right may be withdrawn by a court based on a conviction of a capital crime (eg: death sentence). Or that right may be justly and forcefully preempted thru police action, acts of war, Presidential Order (sanctioned assassination of an enemy of the State), or (self) defense. Finally, a guardian may, under certain circumstances, make the choice to terminate the life of someone under their care (eg: a brain dead child or spouse).
I do believe that long-term medical life-support should be only applied to sustain life when there is a clear expectation of a reasonable recovery of a desired quality of life. Yes, I know those are ambiguous terms, wide open to (mis)interpretation. Naturally there will be cases about which reasonable people with no hidden agenda or conflict of interest might disagree. It is in these cases, where there is no living will (or decision by a devoted/informed guardian) and there does not exist compelling evidence of a persistent state of unconsciousness, that a society must choose life over death. It is simply not our place to play God. While it might be technically possible to sustain the biological "life" of a child with no brain wave activity using an iron lung, a kidney dialysis machine, a catheter, and heart bypass pump, no rational/loving person would desire an extended expression of technology overriding nature in a case like this.
However, the present case of Terri Schiavo stretches our ability to divine an ethically appropriate resolution to a life that is clearly demonstrating some level of cognitive ability. If our society prevails to involuntarily euthanize her, we should at least follow the humane process we use to terminate those on death row... inject her with pain killers followed by quick acting drug to stop her heart. How can we allow an innocent invalid who can't speak or scream in pain to starve to death over a period of one to two weeks! Try going without water for a day or two and see how you feel. That's pure torture and is as sick and barbaric as ripping apart a perfectly viable full-term baby from the womb their mommy. Yes, those are emotional words. For an unimaginable act.
Right to Life can be a complex issue at the boundary conditions and corner cases. However, those are extremely rare. The vast majortiy of cases of slavery, abortion, and euthanasia are easily resolved by simply considering the value of life and the motives of those who desire the termination of life or the alienation of rights.