March 22, 2005

A question

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that you are a demolition expert heading up a crew hired to implode an old, decrepit building so the owner can reuse the lot.

You have gutted the interior of the building and set the explosives. But when the time arrives to detonate the charges and reduce the building to a pile of rubble, a bystander points to one of the upper-story windows. "I think I just saw someone moving around in there," he says. You do a quick roll call, and determine that all of your crew is accounted for.

At that point, do you:

  1. put an immediate end to all further work, until you have thoroughly searched the building and made absolutely sure no one is left inside?
  2. summarily deny that anyone could possibly be left in the building, have security escort anyone who says otherwise off the premises, then blow the charges anyway?

The clear answer is (a), of course. If you do not know for certain whether everyone is out of the building, you are morally obliged to make sure before proceeding. Anything less would be reckless, if not criminal. This is obvious.

That was a hypothetical question.

Here's a real one: Where Terri Schiavo is concerned, why are so many people saying (b) is the right answer?

Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, and his attorney, George Felos, as well as Judge George W. Greer, who presides over this case, argue that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).

Loosely defined, a patient in a PVS lacks any sort of cognition and is neither self-aware nor aware of his environment. He is incapable of voluntary movement, vocalization, and so forth, and does not experience pain or suffering.

However, various medical personnel, visitors, and Terri's family have observed that Terri is apparently capable of simple cognitive activities: she attempts to speak, reacts to visitors, laughs and cries, enjoys music, and withdraws from painful stimuli. If this is true, then by definition, she is not in a PVS.

Schiavo has banned visitors who attempted to feed Terri by mouth. He also once banned Terri's family from visiting after they took some videos and posted them to the Internet; Judge Greer has banned visitors from taking pictures or videos.

Furthermore, it has been claimed by some that no one has ever administered the MRI scan that would be a standard test for PVS. However, this claim is disputable, and in light of the above, it is beside the point in any case.

There is good reason to believe that there is "someone inside the building." The moral thing to do under the circumstances would be to ascertain conclusively whether or not that is the case before allowing Terri Schiavo to die. However, it appears that Michael Schiavo and company have not only ignored the evidence, but removed anyone who disputes his own foregone conclusions, and forged ahead with ending his wife's life.

Anything less would be reckless, if not criminal.


The building analogy is borrowed from the "Pro-Life 101" seminar presented by Scott Klusendorf.