Thursday, March 17, 2005

Is This America?

Hugh Hewitt and Powerline both dig up the following Wall Street Journal op-ed by Yale professor David Gelernter, who can not help but ask, "Is this America?

. . . Mrs. Schiavo's parents believe that she knows them and is comforted by them. They believe they are communing with their daughter. Given my own experience with the gravely ill and the dying, I will take the parents' word over the doctors' any day.

And who dares say you have no right to commune with your gravely ill child? To comfort your child? To pray for your child? Who dares say you have no right to hope that she will recover no matter what the doctors say? Who dares say you have no right to comfort, commune with and pray for her even if you have given up hope? Yes, the woman is mortally ill. Who dares say that her life is therefore worthless, to be cut off at her husband's whim?

Perhaps you believe that those who are suffering, or choose death, or are wholly unconscious, have a "right" to die--but those arguments don't apply to Mrs. Schiavo. They are irrelevant here. Except--not quite irrelevant. After all, those are the arguments that have brought us, as a society, to a state where we contemplate killing Mrs. Schiavo before her parents' eyes, maybe (for all we know) as she smiles right at them.

… When we have condemned a criminal to death, it is remarkable how patient we are in extending his life. So long as there are legal paths to follow, we follow them, and the courts are apt to postpone the execution. Both aspects of the process speak well for us: that we are willing (however painful it may be for us--and it gets more painful every year) to execute murderers; and that we are in no hurry to, and will search on and on for a convincing reason not to.

With the likes of Mrs. Schiavo, we are a lot less patient. The governor can grant a stay of execution when a condemned murderer's life is on the line. Mrs. Schiavo's stay required that the whole Florida Legislature mobilize for action. The frightening question is: What happens to the next Mrs. Schiavo? And the next plus a hundred or a thousand? How much attention will the public and the Legislature be able to muster for this sort of thing over the years? The war against Judeo-Christian morality is a war of attrition. Time is on the instigators' side. They have all the patience in the world, and all the patients. If this one lives, there is always the next. After all, it's the principle of the thing.

For years, thoughtful people have argued that "reasons for taking a human life" should not be treated as a growing list. There are valid reasons to do it, and they have been agreed for millennia. If the list has to change, better to shorten than lengthen it.

Thoughtful people have argued: Once you start footnoting innocent human life, you are in trouble. Innocent life must not be taken, unless (here come the footnotes) the subject is too small, sick or depressed to complain. One footnote, people have argued, and the jig is up; in the long run the accumulating footnotes will strangle humane society like algae choking a pond.

Who would have believed when the Supreme Court legalized abortion that one generation later, only one, America would have come to this? Mrs. Schiavo's parents wanting her to live, pleading for her to live, the state saying no, and a meeting of the Legislature required to pry the executioner's fingers from the victim's throat?

I would never have made such an argument when the abortion decision came down, and I would never have believed it. I still can't believe it. Is this America? Do I wake or sleep?