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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, October 25, 2003

Bag and Baggage points us to Civil Liberties Watch, and particularly to a post on Legislatures and Women's Bodies. Ms. Cassel asks "Aside from the legal and ethical implications of the Florida and federal legislation, ask yourself this question: If these were men's lives we were dealing with, would the law be ordering what should be done with their bodies?

"I think not. In fact, I am sure that it would not."

It's a fair question, and I find myself gasping when I try to think of a refutation to her conclusion. With particular reference to the Terri Schiavo case, I find that I cannot recall a situation where there has been a protracted, public legal battle over the question of whether to take a man off life support. Perhaps there are such cases, and they are less compelling, but that rather begs the question. The fact is that the Schiavo case is, in an important sense, about a woman's body as a chattel. The law is poorly equipped to deal with the moral dimension of the matter, but it can answer the question, "Who controls this chattel?" Once again, we see that the law does poorly when it is called upon to do things that are outside its competence. It is unfortunate that the only other place to look when looking for an answer in this instance is to politics-- politics is an even worse tool for making this sort of decision.

I don't really know where I weigh in on what to be done for or about a person in a persistent vegetative state. Doing what I do, I have seen such, and to me what I have seen resembles agony without awareness-- a hellish condition, and one which cries out for the moral courage to put the suffering to an end. One of the horrors of this sort of situation is that what has usually happened is that the science is sufficient to hold off death, but inadequate to the task of preserving humanity. Of course, this gets into Mary Shelley territory, but that's kind of the point. One other point, that I don't think I've heard anyone address: I really feel for Michael Schiavo, who has been painted as a monster.

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