Over There (in the UK)

March 29, 2005 at 2 PM

The Right Not to Be Used as a Metaphor

Update: Terry Schiavo has died.

It’s likely that nobody needs another opinion on the Terri Schiavo saga, but I feel it’s worth pointing to one which I find particularly cogent. Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in the New Yorker, has been a voice of reason on many previous issues, and his words on this matter seem, once again, to be a shining pearl in a sea of dirty barnacles.

As the week progressed, it was harder and harder to deny that the fervor of Terri’s Christianist “supporters” was motivated by dogmas unrelated to her or her rights. If she truly had a “right to life,” if removing her feeding tube was truly tantamount to murder, then neither the disapproval nor the approval of her family (or anyone else) could make the slightest moral difference.

This is the first time I can recall seeing the word “Christianist” in print. It’s an inflammatory word, inasmuch as any “ist” word is, and yet I think the application is apt. People for whom ideology trumps reason, science, morality and — above all — law, are usually described as being somethingist. The actions of the demagogues in this case, from Republican Leader Tom DeLay in the U.S. Congress to the Bush Administration, to keep Terri Schiavo alive, indicated that they do not appreciate the law as it exists and is applied in the United States. The medical science of whether someone is “dead” or “alive” is not a black and white affair, but there was enough evidence in this case to support the notion that Schiavo no longer lived. As Hertzberg put it:

But when, after a few weeks, she emerged from a coma, it was only to enter a “persistent vegetative state,” with no evidence or hope of improvement—a diagnosis that, in the fifteen years since, has been confirmed, with something close to unanimity, by many neurologists on many occasions on behalf of many courts.

Let’s reiterate that. Experienced judges, acting on the advice of a nearly unanimous set of doctors, agreed that Ms. Schiavo had nothing to live for. Her mind was dead, and had been for fifteen years.

It may not be clear to TV news reporters, nor to the punditocracy which rules the American court of opinion these days, but it is clear to me. The case of Terri Schiavo had little or nothing to do with the right of one individual, and everything to do with promoting a religion-based moral belief system over the one based on medical science. The latter is what informs legal decision-making in secular, Western democracies. The former is what controls the law in theocratic countries like Iran.

The traditional method of news reporting in North America is where reporters present a story in ostensibly neutral terms, and allow proponents of each side of the story equal time and space to present their arguments. He said, she said, and just the facts. This is a method which, in cases like this, does a great disservice to the audience, because the reporters have failed to grasp the true framework of the argument. I’ll say it again: this case was not about whether Terri Schiavo had a “right to live,” based on how much her head might move in a given amount of time. It was about what course a people should follow to legally approve medical decisions. DeLay and Bush and the Christianist sect of the U.S. would seek to undermine a very long tradition of secularism.

But then, that’s not really a big surprise, is it.



Previously: Walter Murch on Sound

Subsequently: Hey Explorer Users, Your Browser Is Lame!

March 2005
the Archives

In Earshot

I only really read it for Canucks coverage, but even still it’s nice that The Vancouver Sun finally redesigned its hideously awful website to look like it was designed this century.

On pizza box art

Web 2.Origami

Welcome to Obama, Japan

The Toronto Star shows where and how the seats changed in the 2008 election

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In Frame

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