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March 29, 2005

A Human Non-Person - Our path to the present

Topics: General

Wesley J. Smith has published this excellent article in the National Review:

My debate about Terri Schiavo's case with Florida bioethicist Bill Allen on Court TV Online eventually got down to the nitty-gritty:
Wesley Smith: Bill, do you think Terri is a person?

Bill Allen: No, I do not. I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood. Even minimal awareness would support some criterion of personhood, but I don't think complete absence of awareness does.

If you want to know how it became acceptable to remove tube-supplied food and water from people with profound cognitive disabilities, this exchange brings you to the nub of the Schiavo case -- the "first principle," if you will. Bluntly stated, most bioethicists do not believe that membership in the human species accords any of us intrinsic moral worth. Rather, what matters is whether "a being" or "an organism," or even a machine, is a "person," a status achieved by having sufficient cognitive capacities. Those who don't measure up are denigrated as "non-persons."

Allen's perspective is in fact relatively conservative within the mainstream bioethics movement. He is apparently willing to accept that "minimal awareness would support some criterion of personhood" -- although he doesn't say that awareness is determinative. Most of his colleagues are not so reticent. To them, it isn't sentience per se that matters but rather demonstrable rationality. Thus Peter Singer of Princeton argues that unless an organism is self-aware over time, the entity in question is a non-person. The British academic John Harris, the Sir David Alliance professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, England, has defined a person as "a creature capable of valuing its own existence." Other bioethicists argue that the basic threshold of personhood should include the capacity to experience desire. James Hughes, who is more explicitly radical than many bioethicists (or perhaps, just more candid), has gone so far as to assert that people like Terri are "sentient property."

So who are the so-called human non-persons? All embryos and fetuses, to be sure. But many bioethicists also categorize newborn infants as human non-persons (although some bioethicists refer to healthy newborns as "potential persons"). So too are those with profound cognitive impairments such as Terri Schiavo and President Ronald Reagan during the latter stages of his Alzheimer's disease.

[snip - read it all]

Know this: There is a direct line from the Terri Schiavo dehydration to the potential for this stunning human strip-mining scenario's becoming a reality. Indeed, as Arnold and Youngner put it so well, "If a look into such a future hurts our eyes (or turns our stomachs), is our discomfort any different from what we would have experienced 30 years ago by looking into the future that is today?"

Indeed, the dignity of human beings is intrinsic to the kind of entity we are and does not depend on attributes like size, skin color, age, or mental capability.

Posted by tim at March 29, 2005 12:32 PM

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So today, Terri is a non person. Within living memory, Jews, Gypsies, "mental defectives" and homosexuals were considered non-persons. Within the last couple of hundred years, the Supreme Court determined that blacks were 4/5 of a person.

"What is truth?" asked Pilate.

Joe Carter at EvangelicalOutpost.com had an excellent post on the "slippery slope" argument - it loses its power if your opponent welcomes what's at the bottom of the slope.

"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold" - Mt 24:12

Posted by: corrie at March 29, 2005 1:26 PM

Open Letter To Michael Schiavo: You Have The Power To Save Terri's Life

Michael The Merciful,

You have proven that you can change your mind when you agreed to allow an autopsy. That is not enough. You must also agree to reinsert your estranged wife's feeding tube. Only you have the power to do this; power that was given to you by a flawed court and judicial system.

You were raised and had your religious beliefs informed by the Protestant Church. On some level, you know that there is God, who created you and Terri, alike, in His image. You are accountable to Him for what you have done and what you continue to do to Terri. Have you forgotten, or do you not know, the he who does not show repentance and mercy will not receive mercy at the final judgment.

You are not thinking! You are only reacting with false and deluded reasoning. You may get away with it at this time, through the support of a temporal court, but woe unto you! You will be judged as you have judged. Terri’s pain and suffering, that was initiated and ultimately caused by you, will become your pain and suffering, if not here, then in eternity.

You do not demonstrate Love. You do not demonstrate Compassion. You do not demonstrate God's Mercy. You are motivated by absolute power over another human being and the many people who wish to be near her and a comfort to her during her prolonged dying process. You are counted among the foolish people who are described in the Book of Proverbs, in your Bible.

In Jesus’ name, and for your sake, I ask you to take the time to pray and ask for God's wisdom and will, then do it. You are not the final arbiter of life and death. All happens according to God's pure and loving will for His purpose alone, not yours.

Change your mind and give the feeding tube and full medical care back to your discarded wife. Give Terri back to her family and walk away from this agonizing situation with whatever dignity you have left. Suspicions will follow you if you do not.

If you have harmed Terri in the past, as you are harming her in the present, please know that living with the Truth and the opportunity for God's forgiveness and Mercy is better than living a tormented life of lies and cover-ups. There is a great difference between being a wife abuser and being a murderer.

I sincerely pray for you. Please choose to accept God's love for you.

Carol Taylor

Cross-posted on When Things Go Wrong...Think!...Then Act

Posted by: Carol at March 29, 2005 1:52 PM

Unbelievable! Does that mean that everyone whos only fault is that they are severly disabled should be starved? If they are not considered worth worrying about they why bother! Bill Allen I would be scared if i was your parents and hope that i didnt end up needing assistance!

Posted by: delphinius at March 29, 2005 2:11 PM

This country has gone crazy! its like we flipped upside down!

Posted by: delphinius at March 29, 2005 2:12 PM