A life worth living

Who should decide the fate of Terri Schiavo? Her husband? Her parents? Herself? None of the above is the right reply. Congress stumbled onto the correct answer, although for the wrong reason. They understand that this question must be decided ultimately by us - we the people. Technology permits human bodies to endure long after any reasonable quality of life has abandoned them. It is wrong.

The body is just not worth maintaining, at some point. We can no longer leave the decision about when to shuffle off this mortal coil exclusively to the individual. An individual may well insist that he be kept alive "no matter what". But few people can pay for heroic care for an extended period. What he is demanding is that we pay for him to be kept alive no matter what. As a taxpayer, I decline to pay. If taxpayers are to pay the bills, they have a stake in the decision.

What if it was your daughter? That is the trump question you would ask me if I said that it was not worth the cost to save a life. Of course I would spend the whole GNP to save my daughter. That is why you - society - can't let me have the power to make the decision. That is why we as a society cannot write a blank check to anybody. People die. Sometime death is preferable to a low quality life. No matter what we say when we are hale and healthy, in the event most of us turn coward. We cling to that small hope and claw at that sliver of life. Until recently nature and nature's God disciplined us and constrained our options. Technology has run ahead of ethics. Now we might need human rules if we are to avoid having human bodies sustained like grotesque house plants.

Let's not shrink from this because it is hard, because we are all uncomfortable and because we look like villains even for thinking about it. Keeping Terry Schiavo alive is not the moral thing to do and certainly not worth the money we are spending, no matter what she would have wanted. The same goes for a brain damaged baby, who might live another seventy years, or even a severely disabled adult. How cruel that sounds. Our parents and grandparents never faced with these decisions. They could always choose life because they didn't have the technologies to keep their promises. We have now achieved "life", but we have yet to decide what life means in the context of our recently acquired powers to maintain it indefinitely.

These are not decision we choose to make, but it is our duty to make these decisions.

Posted by Jack at March 23, 2005 11:40 AM