Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Why Should Libertarians Want To Kill Terri Schiavo?

I'm a libertarian-social-capital-techno-big-picture guy, worrying about nukes, the EU and China, & have only followed this case to track the science. So I was surprised to see libertarian Samizdata supporting the killing (hat tip Giles).

Their argument boils down to:
1. The person in question can't speak for herself & doctors say she never will.
2. So we must rely on her legal guardian (her adulterous husband) & ignore the wishes of her parents. And the husband says the woman told him that she'd want to be killed in her current circumstances.
3. Giving nutrition and hydration to someone is the same as treating them medically.
4. Nobody can (should?) be forced to accept medical treatment. So she should be killed.
5. And anyway, it will cost the state $80,000 per year to keep Schiavo alive, which isn't acceptable.

I don't think so.

1. The Science Is Suspect

Medical science does not understand human physiology & cannot rule out the possibility that either a) Schiavo is conscious but unable to communicate or b) will at some point recover.

Relying on doctors for mind-body stuff is like relying on the Microsoft Help Desk to figure out why Windows crashes - doctors have the Support Manual and Known Problems Register, not the code. But this is a code issue - what is consciousness? how does the mind-body system really work? Nobody knows.

2. Food And Water Are Not Medicine

An elderly relative of mine is almost blind and can't walk - people bring her food and without them she would die. Just as she would if they left her out in the cold. The basic human needs of food and shelter are not medicine. If you disagree, try getting your doctor to write you a prescription for them.

3. Libertarians Should Protect The Weak

Surely libertarians should favor informal social processes that maintain Social Capital? And isn't protecting the weak such a process? And isn't killing inconvenient people a statist monopoly-of-force play?

4. Killing Through Dehydration & Starvation Is Inhuman

I'm a runner and have suffered severe dehydration, it's horrible. The NYT and AP think otherwise, so I'll gladly take their reporters on a 15-miler at 90 degrees ITS, without water. They'll make great desk ornaments!

5. Libertarians Should Not Be Passive-Aggressive

OK, let's accept for the moment that food & water are really medicine, that doctors are infallible, and this woman's legal guardian is telling the truth. So why not just kill her? There are plenty of quick & painless ways of doing that. Starving a helpless person to death is as passive-aggressive as you can get. And they're only doing that because it makes them fell less culpable. That sucks.

6. And This Case Stinks

Look at Opinion Journal on this. The unfaithful husband, er legal guardian, is massively conflicted. He now has a new partner, they've had kids, he seems to have spent most of his wife's money on legal fees to get the her killed.

If the Samizdata view is libertarian, I'm going to have to invent another label for myself. How about Social Capitalist?