The emotional case of Terri Schiavo it seems, has come to symbolize one of the biggest problems in the American social system. The question that asks… How does our “system” handle moral questions around which citizens are in strong disagreement? It seems that some moral questions are too powerful to be contained within the democratic answer of “majority rule”.
I found an interesting post by Professor Stephen Bainbridge, a corporate law professor at UCLA, on his blog, Terry Schiavo, Congress and First Principles, that introduces an approach to looking at this problem by isolating the engines of our system; the culture of life, limited government, federalism and rule of law. Although I disagree with much of what he says I nevertheless found in considering his dissection an approach to what I think may be an answer.
The culture of life:
It seems ironic to me that religious people, who believe in a “life-after”, cling to earthly life more tenaciously than non-religious people who believe they will simply disappear. But regardless of what people believe, I think the culture of life should be governed by personal choice and religion should be a personal choice. I think people are generally uncomfortable with death and so they avoid it’s contemplation. This means that when misfortune falls upon their bodies the natural process (designed by God or otherwise) is subject to interference by the man-made, billable technology of hospitals and the abscence of any personal choice to avoid it.
I think the only business the government has in this domain comes in two processes. The first is dealing with the cases in which people failed to make a personal choice and the second is to limit the number of times that happens. I think the government should require that people file their choices, maybe as part of the tax filing process. However they do it, they need to start limiting their liability while encouraging the churches and the people themselves to take more responsibility for these tough questions.
A concept in which it’s virtue and vice are one and the same. Much can be said about the advantages and the dangers of localized power and the moment in which the federal government overrules the state is a perpetual argument. But the line between state and nation is severely one-dimensional, based on nothing other than geographic territory. There are more lines to consider and the line between social convention and personal choice (religious or otherwise) is one of them. I think federalism is over-rated and maybe it’s time for people to understand that this is an age in which other lines can be brought to the same level, such as the lines between organizations that can better answer the questions regarding the culture of life.
Rule of Law:
The judicial process is often slammed for being slanted or self-serving… The simple fact is that no matter which way they go, that charge will remain. A conservative ruling gets slammed by liberals and a liberal ruling gets slammed by conservatives. The problem is in the gap between the general law of the people and the specific application to the person. There there is a lot of room for interpretation. Since this is by design, I don’t think narrowing the gap with more explicit laws from congress is the answer – I think once again, the reduction of government liability applies here by limiting the cases, not the judgment.
I think most people can find agreement with an organization of their choice with very little effort, whether it’s a church, the ACLU, or whatever they feel represents their best interest. So it seems silly to me that we fight endlessly to force everyone under federal jurisdiction to conform to one answer when there is no reason why we can’t simply let the people decide for themselves. The living will is a step in the right direction, but as long as it remains optional, the government will continue to be liable for choices people never get around to making for themselves. I think limited government should start with a requisite that people file these choices for themselves. This should be an easy process, maybe included in the tax forms that we file. If people are too uncomfortable to make the choice for themselves, they should be able to select a proxy to make the choice for them, such as a spouse or a church. After all, this is the age of global networks and democratization where interests can be carried from the individual to the global level instantly. If such a system were already in place, Terri Schiavo’s destiny would have been decided by her own personal choice, not a court.