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June 5, 2006

The Economics of Life

Topics: Assisted Suicide, Commentary, Euthanasia, Futile Care Laws

The pro-life movement is celebrating victories that after over 30 years of Roe v Wade, the scourge of abortion, at least public support for it, has waned and is now the minority position. South Dakota passed an outright abortion ban believing the time was right to challenge the law. Poll after poll demonstrates that the public knows that conception is the "moment that changes everything" where a new life is created and begins its journey to birth. Are we a pro-life nation then? The answer to that question is still no.

It seems a contradiction to say that while most oppose abortion that it does not follow the nation has become pro-life. That is, until you take a look at the new battlefields of the pro-life movement. Terri Schiavo is the most popular example.

An unbiased observer would certainly be taken aback at the concept of the individual making decisions for Terri was her husband that has since gotten engaged to another woman and had two children with her. There is an obvious conflict of interest there. However, the public was largely unconcerned with that.

The point where support for Terri fell the most was when the cameras showed images of Terri Schiavo to the world. The public saw someone who was unmistakably alive but unmistakably having a "low quality of life". Most felt that it was not worth being alive in those circumstances. Suddenly, it didn't matter what Michael Schiavo's motivations were or his conflict of interest. He was making the "right" decision to end a life not worth living.

It is known that the abortion movement grew out of the eugenics movement and it should come as no surprise that the husband of the lawyer who litigated Roe v Wade lobbied Bill Clinton to approve RU-486, not for easy access to abortion or women's rights, but because "twenty-six million food stamp recipients is (sic) more than the economy can stand." It isn't about life, it is about a productive life (in Ron Weddington's case, where the financial output is greater than the input).

This can also been seen in the recent burst of "futile care" cases (where hospitals unilaterally decide who should die independent of the families wishes or objections). While few would argue that those who are alive only with the help of life support equipment (i.e. respirators, not a feeding tube) can be "unplugged", futile care laws have been used to try to kill children, including a child perfectly able to heal, the uninsured, and Katrina evacuees that were "no worth moving". With talk of universal health care, one wonders if that will finally put complete control on whether (poor) patients should be left untreated.

One could argue that doctors know best and if they determine care is futile, then it really is. However, in the case of Haleigh (the girl who recovered above), doctors can and are wrong. Medical advances developed a year later may have helped Terri Schiavo recover. Then there is the case of just using futile care law to avoid dealing with poor and uninsured patients and leaving them to die legally. After all, more is going in to them than is coming out.

Going back to the original premise, it can be seen that the nation isn't becoming more pro-life, per se. What has lead to the downfall of support of abortion is the realization that unborn children have the potential to be productive citizens save some external force that prevents them. The rise of an anti-abortion culture is the convergence of pro-life forces with those who believe that the potential of productive life should be allowed.

Where the pro-life movement has yet to engage in is the rising notion of reducing human life to matters of economics. Taking whatever subjective equation is used, if someone comes out having a "negative" balance they can be killed. If they have a positive balance, they can live. This quantification system, even if it aligns with those against abortion, is decidedly not pro-life, usually because the poor and minorities (however they are determined) tend to cluster on the "negative" balance side of the equation.

The value of a human life has been determined. The problem is that those subjective measures mean that the most vulnerable in society will be the ones most likely to be considered "without value". Fighting against the valuation of life is the next big pro-life challenge.

John Bambenek is a columnist for the Daily Illini and an academic professional at the University of Illinois. He blogs at Part-Time Pundit.

Posted by john at June 5, 2006 12:48 AM

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