Blogs > Liberty and Power > Schiavo, Human Life, and Marriage

Mar 23, 2005 12:25 pm

Schiavo, Human Life, and Marriage

My thoughts on the Schiavo case can be found here. I agree entirely with those of us who have found the case a horrifying overreach by the federal government, and I am happy--yes, happy--to see the ruling today from the federal appeals court.

But what exactly was it that the social conservatives were hoping to accomplish in this case? I write,
Just as we honor the wishes of those who want, say, a Christian funeral service--or to be cremated and shot from a cannon--so too, we ought to give Terri Schiavo the treatment that she wanted in death. A decent respect for individual autonomy demands no less. This, my dear fundamentalists, is what it means to err on the side of life: It is to err on the side of respect for individual will, not on the side of mere protoplasm.

The second reason why the case really matters is because it is about... marriage.

With one hand the religious right is"protecting" marriage by denying committed same-sex couples the legal benefits of that state. With the other hand, they are making me wonder what good a marriage would do in any event: If Congress itself can step in and declare that the guardianship that comes with marriage is null and void, then marriage really is the weak and threatened institution that the religious right says it is. The only trouble is, the religious right is the one doing all the attacking. Never mind the egregious abuse of federalism that the case represents; far more to the point, it is also an egregious abuse of the marriage bond.

The hypocrisy could not be more perfect, as Randall Terry himself has taken the lead in both these efforts, demonizing gay marriages and infringing on the rights of straight ones. What people like him want is not to protect marriage--but to subjugate all marriage, all human intimacy, to their own political will.
I may be young, but I can still remember the good old days, back when it seemed like the left was the greater enemy of individual rights. How times change.

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Clearly, one thing they're trying to accomplish is to grant the "right to life" to entities in a vegetative state. That induces people to accept an essentially passive conception of life; it induces a lack of clarity about the nature of human personhood; and if they get away with it, it allows them to argue that if Terri Schiavo has a right to life, any similar entity has one, in which case relatively early fetuses have it.

Without denying what Steven Horwitz is saying, I would say that the underlying agenda here is abortion, which is why it's no accident that Randall Terry is involved.

Chris Rasmussen - 3/24/2005

Just like it was urged that all Muslims needed to step forward after 9/11 to say that their religion had no connections to the gross atrocities that occured in NYC and DC; I think all Christians need to come forward and state their opposition to the atrocities that evangelical fundamentalists are carrying out in Florida.

John Arthur Shaffer - 3/24/2005

I agree this is not specifically about marriage or abortion. It is much bigger than that. The agenda here is to further create public distain for our court system and judges in particular.

The judiciary is the last defense againt the tyranny of fundamentalism. Anyone who thinks Republican federalists will somehow save the day better stop hitting the snooze button.

Bill Woolsey - 3/24/2005

Personally, the fact that the husband has a new wife and family takes away from the notion that this is an attack on marriage.

I don't think this is about promoting a position on abortion.

The Roman Catholic church has long opposed both abortion and euthanasia. They do include both under the general heading of "pro-life."

But I don't believe that they favor maintaining a ban on euthanasia because it would make it more difficult to ban abortion.

I believe that the anti-abortion coalition between Protestant fundamentalists and conservative Roman Catholics has had an impact on fundamentalist Protestants--and so, Terry Randall.

John Arthur Shaffer - 3/23/2005

The religious right lost this battle in the Cruzan case. It is well established now in most state law that one can refuse hydration and nutrition - it is considered medical care - if an advanced directive or clear intent is shown. If the parents and husband had agreed this case wouldn't have been given Randall Terry and his ilk a chance to stuff their coffers with millions and charge the base for the 2006 midterms.

Steven Horwitz - 3/23/2005

No argument Irfan. This is all one big proxy fight over abortion.

John Arthur Shaffer - 3/23/2005

Here's a quote from Scalia in the Cruzan case:

"While I agree with the Court's analysis today, and therefore join in its opinion, I would have preferred that we announce, clearly and promptly, that the federal courts have no business in this field; that American law has always accorded the State the power to prevent, by force if necessary, suicide - including suicide by refusing to take appropriate measures necessary to preserve one's life; that the point at which life becomes "worthless," and the point at which the means necessary to preserve it become "extraordinary" or "inappropriate," are neither set forth in the Constitution nor known to the nine Justices of this Court any better than they are known to nine people picked at random from the Kansas City telephone directory; and hence, that even when it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that a patient no longer wishes certain measures to be taken to preserve her life, it is up to the citizens of Missouri to decide, through their elected representatives, whether that wish will be honored. It is quite impossible (because the Constitution says nothing about the matter) that those citizens will decide upon a line less lawful than the one we would choose; and it is unlikely (because we know no more about "life-and-death" than they do) that they will decide upon a line less reasonable."

I don't see any legal jujitzu that he can do here to justify a federal court role like they did in the Bush v. Gore case.

Steven Horwitz - 3/23/2005

Two comments Jason. First, as a commenter on another blog noted, "Aren't these the same people who think the husband is the head of the family and that the husband should keep his promises?"

Second, the link to marriage is absolutely right. I've just re-read and am teaching Rauch's book on gay marriage and he makes the argument there that one of the defining characteristics of marriage is that it provides us with a caregiver - someone for whom we are always first in line. That is precisely the aspect of the Schiavo marriage that is at stake here and precisely the aspect that the critics are attempting to circumvent. So yes, the opposition to gay marriage and to the Schiavo case come from a similar place - that marriage is something other than two people agreeing to put their full trust in the ability of another human being to be their caregiver.