Thursday, March 24, 2005

In Love With Death

Did you know that this is us? Us liberals and progressives, we are the pro-death party, the party that is in love with death. So Peggy Noonan tells us in her beautiful opinion column on the Terri Schiavo case:

The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.) Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you? But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry? But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

Terri Schiavo may well die. No good will come of it. Those who are half in love with death will only become more red-fanged and ravenous.

And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning. What terrible stories are shaping them. They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio. They are seeing a society--their society, their people--on the verge of famously accepting, even embracing, the idea that a damaged life is a throwaway life.

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you "know" that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz. Today that road runs through Pinellas Park, Fla.

Gulp. I'm in tears with the beauty and touchingness of Ms. Noonan's writing. Except when she calls me red-fanged and ravenous. I just had dinner, anyway.

Then I read what she wrote again and turned An Angry Goddess With Thunder in the Background:

So Ms. Noonan thinks every life is of infinite value, does she? Even all those lives in Iraq that are usually called collateral damage? Even the lives of Iraqis? If so, how does Ms. Noonan justify our going over there to nip so many lives in their freshest of buds? We probably killed some pregnant women there, too, and their fetuses would then be dead also, right? Were these lives of infinite value? And if they were, how does Ms. Noonan explain what her masters did over there, all those pro-life Republican neo-cons who think that freedom in the Middle East is worth any price, including thousands of innocent lives lost?

And the road to Auschwitz, the one that goes by Pinellas Park, Fla, does it happen to make a detour to Baghdad? And if not, why not? Did Haliburton embezzle all the money that was intended for paving this road to Hell?

The U.S. government doesn't usually act as if every life were infinitely valuable. If it did, there would be no mercury in the tuna that is being fed to our children. If it did, there wouldn't be a single bridge that needs maintenance work. If it did, there wouldn't be a single product sold in the country that fails the highest safety requirements. For the mercury in the tuna may kill a child one day, a bridge may collapse with cars on it and a faulty product may murder people one day. Even a traffic junction without lights can cause a deathly accident.

No, Peggy, your party doesn't think that human lives are infinitely valuable, not when it comes to actually spending resources to save them or when it comes to not attacking people with weapons of war. Your party finds only some lives infinitely valuable, and only when it suits the political aims of your party.

So much for the infinite value of human lives.

And what about Ms. Noonan's other arguments? She argues for the relativity of all human suffering in the first part of the quote I have extracted from her article:

But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry? But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.

What if the deathbed has lasted fifteen years so far? Would that make you change your mind, Peggy? And do you really intend for us to equate things like aching teeth and bad hair days with what Terri Schiavo's existence is like? Many people on their deathbeds actually do want to leave, in fact, desperately pray to be allowed to leave. Ms. Noonan has been very lucky so far not to know this.

Not that we know what Terri Schiavo feels or thinks, if anything. But people who write beautiful articles like the one I'm discussing here think that they know what should be done, and the right thing to do is to reconnect Schiavo's feeding tubes. If this happened and Terri Schiavo lived another fifteen years would Peggy Noonan go and visit her, say, once a month? Would she pay for the costs of Schiavo's care or would she at least ask her masters to pay for those costs? Would she pressure the administration to cover the costs of care for all people like Terri Schiavo? Or would she never write another beautiful article about Terri Schiavo again?

How rude of Echidne, you might mutter here. Why is she attacking Noonan like that? Journalists don't have to do any of those things she demands. Probably not. But journalists don't usually call people on one side of a political debate the pro-death party or talk about their ravenous red fangs. That is really rude in my books and Noonan deserves a good (imaginary) kick in the backside.

Consider her pro-death argument. She's using it because she is trying to fan the flames of the culture war, to make the fundamentalists hate people (and goddesses) on the other side even more than they already do. She's doing this to encourage the fundamentalists to turn up in the elections of 2006. But does she care about the dangers in fanning the flames of extremist anger? We have enough unstable individuals with guns in this country without Ms. Noonan pointing at liberals as something to use in target practice. And yes, the sarcasm of this paragraph is intended. Sometimes I wonder why no-one else notices that it is the pro-lifers who seem to be especially keen on violence.

What about the "bizarre passion" for death that Ms. Noonan attributes to us liberals and progressives? I don't actually have a definite opinion on the case of Terri Schiavo. That's because I'm not a medical, ethical or legal expert or someone who knew Terri and loved her. All I know about the case is what I have read.

But I do know one general thing and that is something that Ms. Noonan fails to grasp: that there is ambiguity in the borderline between life and death, that the very concepts of life and death are unclear and fuzzy, that the value of life depends on the actual concrete case we are looking at, that to value "life" even if this means to value pain and suffering and unbearable torture seems cruel, that to value "life" without valuing the dignity of the individual, his or her actual life and its meaning to that individual seems pointless.

All this is much too complicated and unclear for the wingnuts. That's why I'm not one of them.