Thursday, June 23, 2005

Reflections On An Autopsy

It would be hard not to notice the deafening silence coming from evangelicals and pro-life activists in the wake of the release of Terri Schiavo's autopsy report last week. Even I myself have been silent (though I would plead my absence from the internet last week as an excuse). It's as if everyone suddenly shrugged, said "Oops, my bad," and hid in a corner hoping the whole thing would go a way.

Wesley J. Smith is great tonic for that sort of thinking. I interviewed him for radio a little earlier today, and for my money there's nobody better on these issues.

Smith's answer to handwringing "were we wrong?" pro-life activists is: suck it up, get some backbone, quit simpering, and continue the pro-life fight.

"I didn't learn anything I didn't already know from the autopsy report," Smith said. "What did we learn? That this was a woman who was profoundly disabled. We didn't expect that she was going to get out of her bed and join the cheerleading squad." He asked: why would any pro-lifer suddenly doubt his own position because of the autopsy?"

The bottom line, said Smith, is this: either human life is inherently valuable, or it isn't. The so-called "bioethics" establishment has determined that there is such a thing as unworthy human life. Their judgement is a philosophical one, but they couch it in scientific and medical verbiage in an attempt to wall it off from you and me, as if only specialists are equipped to make judgements on the matter. But there is no scientific test for value.

Ethics cannot be measured in a test tube. Ethics are not--indeed must not be--the exclusive province of scientists. Regardless of Terri's cognitive skills, either she was an intrinsically valuable human life or she wasn't. All attempts to define humanity in terms of cognition ultimately lead to Nazi-esque (yes, I said "Nazi"--and it's appropriate here) atrocities. The "bioethicist" can call that overstated; what he cannot do is articulate a coherent principle that allows people like Terri to be killed while protecting six-month old babies or Alzheimer's patients or anyone deemed undesirable by powerful people.

Smith said that the pro-life movement should be proud of it's involvement in the Terri case, not ashamed. In a world where even conscious people can have food and water withheld, the voice of pro-life activists brought this case to the notice of even the President of the United States, and it resulted in a bipartisan (remember that when Democrats try to use it as a campaign issue) congressional effort to save her.

Defending Terri was the right thing to do. It was right then, and it's right now. She was a human being with intrinsic value, and she died just as you or I would die if food and water were withheld from us. It was never more than an assertion from an extremely dubious source that Terri "wanted to die." If our value as humans is based on our cognitive abilities, then we are not inherently valuable. And if we are inherently valuable, our value is not based on our cognitive abilities. There's no via media.

Pro-lifers need to take their tails out from between their legs, understand what they're fighting for, and get back in the battle again.

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