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22 January 2012

Repudiation: ProLifeCon

A short history of legal action around the medical condition of Terri Schiavo

In 2005, following an extended legal battle in the state of Florida, then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, himself a surgeon specializing in heart transplants, and his fellow Republicans endeavored to extend the life of Terri Schiavo.   The problem was that Ms. Schiavo was in a persistant vegetative state (PVS).  Three years after that diagnosis, after repeated efforts with various treatments, Michael Schiavo asked the hospital to stop resuscitating his wife.  Ms. Schiavo's parents objected and sued.

For details of Ms. Schiavo's medical condition, see the New England Journal of Medicine.  The bottom line is that she was PVS.  Her brain, following too long without oxygen, had atrophied.  Her body functioned in that her heart was still beating and her lungs worked, but she could neither drink nor eat.  In other words, the body was alive but the brain was dead.  If you believe in a soul that is separate from corporal existence, that soul had already rejoined God.

But that did not stop Senator Frist from pushing for legislation, signed later by President Bush, that would move the Schiavo case from Florida state courts to federal courts.  This despite having run the gamut of the Florida appellate system, Mr. Schiavo never losing the right to make end of life decisions for his PVS wife.  Based on a memo from Florida Senator Mel Martinez, many speculated that this was not about real morality but about positioning the Republican Party for the 2008 election cycle.

Dr. Frist gave a speech against terminating the life of Ms. Schiavo on the floor of the Senate.  He was accused of having done a long-distance diagnosis of her condition.  USA Today discussed this along with other points.
Frist, R-Tenn., said in the full Senate that he supported what he called "an opportunity to save Mrs. Schiavo's life." A heart surgeon, Frist had viewed video ordered by a court and taken by a board-certified neurologist who had concluded she was not in a persistent vegetative state.
So, while Dr. Frist did not conduct the diagnosis himself, he was supporting a long-distance diagnosis that reached the opposite conclusion of the the team of doctors caring for Ms. Schiavo.  Still dubious, but not quite as horrible as the allegation that he was diagnosing long distance in a field in which he did not specialize.

Later, Sen. Frist opined on the case (still from the USA Today article).
Asked on NBC's Meet the Press if he had any regrets regarding the Schiavo case, Frist said: "Well, I'll tell you what I learned from it, which is obvious. The American people don't want you involved in these decisions."
So, the government should not be second guessing doctors and state courts.


On Monday 23 January 2012, as part of the protest events around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Family Research Council (FRC), mostly known for the anti-equality stand on homosexuals, is hosting ProLifeCon, a rally of pro-life activists.  FRC boasts that one of those featured will be Collin Raye, a singer and the spokesman for the Terri Schaivo Life & Hope Network.

It is bizarre that the Terri Schaivo Life & Hope Network exists in complete denial of Ms. Schiavo's PVS condition.  Now the FRC, who regularly lie about homosexuality in pursuit of continuing the denial of equality to the LGBTQ Community, welcome those who lie about a past medical condition to protest a Supreme Court decision that helps keep abortion rates low.

Protesting Roe v Wade is counterproductive to those who want fewer abortions, but it does raise a lot of money for the organizations coordinating the protests.  The Washington Post ran an opinion piece on 17 January.
The annual carnival in Washington around the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision (Happy 39th, Roe!) has become more farcical with each repetition. As technology and state-policy changes make the landmark case less important, anniversary observances have devolved into fact-free spectacles that have less to do with abortion than with raising money for advocacy groups on both sides.
I don't mind if religions choose to preach almost anything in their sanctuaries.  They are welcome to call me a terrible person and damn me to hell if they so choose.  I do object to their endeavor to inflict their belief system on the rest of us.

Let's face it, a zygote and an early embryo are each alive in the same sense that Ms. Schiavo was in her PVS.  The flesh is alive, but no one is home.  In the first two, the spirit has not yet been breathed into the body.
Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  Genesis 2 : 7.
In the latter case, the spirit had departed years before the body was allowed to stop.  If someone objects to an abortion, they should not have an abortion.  If someone does not want their spouses body to stop breathing despite being in a PVS, they should be allowed to pay for continued care.  But the laws should not be suited to just that particular religious view of life.


  1. "Let's face it, a zygote and an early embryo are each alive in the same sense that Ms. Schiavo was in her PVS. The flesh is alive, but no one is home. In the first two, the spirit has not yet been breathed into the body."

    I'm not religious, so the above argument in favor of abortions sounds completely contrived to me. I'm not sure how many people have actually seen the spirit being breathed into the human body by a deity. Nor do I know anyone who's actualy seen the spirit departing a human body. But, based on many people's witnesses, including my own observations during my pregnancies, I know for a fact that an embryo is a developing, growing human being. The embryo is human insofar as it has the human DNA and thus is not going to turn into a kitten or a puppy. Moreover, from the philosophical standpoint, the fetus is a being insofar as it already EXISTS, albeit as a dependent in the woman's womb. Of course, technically, the fact that the fetus is dependent on the woman's body for survival shouldn't make the fetus the woman's property, just as the fact that most of us are dependent on other people for survival doesn't make us other people's property, that is slaves. As far as the ability to survive on one's own is concerned, a newborn, especially one born prematurely, is completely dependent on his/her mother and/or on medical professionals. As for insufficient mental capacity, which, as it seems to follow from your argument, may make one less than human, a newborn, of course, has the mental capacity of a fairly unintelligent animal. What's more, some newborns never develop the mental capacity of an intelligent human adult. Some of those unfortunate newborns turn into adults that will effectively be "vegetables" for the rest of their lives. Therefore, I find it quite ironic that, in order to feel better about authorizing killing perfectly healthy human fetuses, we have to come up with all sorts of contrived and hypocritial justifications for why they're not fully human, as well as buy into the interesting rhetoric of certain Supreme Court justices, who claim in their decisions that a human fetus is in fact a property - first that of a woman, then that of the state. The only problem with all of these pro-choice arguments, as I see it, is that, according to the same criteria that we use to justify killing a fetus in early stages of its development, we should be perfectly justified in killing any human who starts to fit the arbitrary "no one is home" description, that is becomes "too" intellectually disabled to any longer qualify as an independent free-willed human being.

    1. I am pro-choice, but I am also in favor of limiting the need for abortions. The religious argument that I offered is explicitly in response to a religious argument that a zygote is already imbued with the human spirit. If the zygote is a full human, then the number of naturally-occurring deaths from spontaneous aborting of zygotes is uncountable (and something which God, or evolution or whatever you believe, intended).

      I'm not saying that your slippery slope argument has no merit. But, I do not believe that a zygote is a human being. I do believe that there is some point during gestation when the collection of growing cells becomes a human being, but that is a tough moment to determine precisely. Religion adds the component of the spirit or soul which cannot be scientifically known.

      If you don't believe that abortion is right, please don't have one. If you are in the medical field and don't believe that abortion is right, please don't perform one (unless it is to save the life of the woman, as in an ectopic pregnancy).

      I strongly object to politicians making this decision on behalf of women and their doctors. The government ought not be that intrusive.

  2. I'm assuming that you didn't delete the comment I posted here earlier, so I'm posting it again.

    "If the zygote is a full human, then the number of naturally-occurring deaths from spontaneous aborting of zygotes is uncountable (and something which God, or evolution or whatever you believe, intended)". True of the zygote, true of born humans. The only difference between the two is how many people are going to actually care that you didn't survive longer.
    Having immigrated to the US only very recently, I come from a country, which made abortions free and easily available a long time ago, while the society there is still treating the woman as an insignificant object of man's desires. That country is Russia. Health care providers don't even pretend to care about women's health in that country, and yet the first question you often hear when you come to a doctor pregnant is whether you'd like to get an abortion. My mom had to get three or four, just because her husband didn't want condoms to interfere with his pleasure and high-quality birth control pills weren't available to her. Despite the fact that she felt her abortions were justified by the harsh economic conditions she was in, she was utterly heartbroken when she saw an actual ultrasound picture of my nine-week-old baby. She said she never would've gone through with it, if she had known what the babies looked like at the time she was getting rid of them. But even before she saw that picture, she already felt deeply traumatized by the fact that she had had to get those abortions in the first place. To this day, she often thinks of those unborn babies and looks back on her perfectly legal and safe abortions experience as the worst experience of her life, when she felt she was truly in hell. The way the nurses would chat with each other casually over her lifeless body, while she going through the worst medical procedure of her life, made those nurses sound like the devil's minions to her, even though she doesn't believe in God.
    We don't allow parents to kill their children, just because those children happen to interfere with their parents' happiness. Instead, we, as a society, take responsibiltiy for unwanted children, thus giving those children a chance to live and sometimes even become the Steve Jobses of our world. Also, one of the important roles human societies charge their governments with is ensuring that we can't abuse or kill fellow human beings - especially those of them, who are defenseless and over whom we have complete power. The infant inside a woman's womb, just as as an infant outside a woman's womb, is an example of a human being that can't defend itself, and whose survival, therefore, must be defended by the society and, consequently, by the government. Of course, if the society wants to do the truly responsible thing, instead of condoning a quick-fix "no person - no problem" solution to a very complicated and potentially very slippery-slope issue, it should do everything it can to educate people about protected sex as well as about the value of a human life from its inception. Not only that, but the society must remove the stigma associated with "irresponsible pregnancies" as well as be willing to happily assume, when necessary, full responsibility for the well-being of the children in utero, as well as for the psychological, physical and financial well-being of their mothers. The way things are now, banning abortions in America would be almost as hypocrtitical as condoning them. However, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive towards a better society, in which an abortion will not be off the table when a pregnancy is life-threatening for a woman, but will become certainly as difficult a moral call for everyone involved as disconnecting someone from life support.

    1. No, Evgenia. While I reserve the right to delete any comment, the only comments I have deleted are those which involved swearing and name-calling. Fortunately, they have been infrequent.

      My opinions regarding healthcare are based on faith in each woman or man to make rational decisions in concert with their doctors. Obviously, if one is incapable of making those decisions (dementia, brain damage, etcetera), then someone else must step in. What you describe of Russian healthcare sounds horrible. While I favor legal abortion, it should not be pushed on a woman unless it is to save her life (for example, during an ectopic pregnancy).

      We agree that women should not be condemned for a pregnancy that is out of wedlock or, to use your phrase, an irresponsible pregnancy. Changing societal views is something that takes a long time. The United States Civil War ended slavery, but racism was legal for another century and individuals remain racist half a century after that.

      Where we appear to disagree is about when a fetus should be considered a child. Doctors and scientists disagree as to the time when that clump of cells should be considered a person. I don't have the answer either. It should, in my opinion be "as difficult a moral call for everyone involved as disconnecting someone from life support." But that difficult call should not be made by the government. We need to have enough faith in people to trust them to do what is right.

  3. The way I see it, in most democratic countries, the most important laws of the land and their interpretation tend to embody the society's understanding of what's right and what's wrong. Such a system ensures voluntary compliance of most people. Therefore, when murder or theft or other types of behavior against the individual are generally outlawed, we know that it simply reflects the way the society as a whole feels about these types of behavior. That said, under certain circumstances, we consider murder or theft or other types of socially condemned behavior appropriate, which is also reflected in our laws. The very need to have all of these rules and exceptions written into our laws by no other than our government means that we, the society, don't have enough faith in every individual to trust him or her to do what is right. However, while we can't trust every individual to do what's right and need laws to be able to compel individual compliance, the laws which do not reflect the deeply held beliefs of the society in question are hypocritical. Such laws tend to be ignored by most people in the society and have the powerful potential to undermine the people's faith in the legal system (Russia is a prime example of that, too). Which brings me back to my earlier point: simply outlawing abortion without first changing how most women feel about it would be futile and hypocritical. However, if the social sentiment changed towards taking the same kind of individual and collective responsibility for the human lives in utero as we take for the human lives ex utero, that sentiment would inevitably find its way into the laws of our country.


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