Marlowe's Shade

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Blogburst for Terri: The Next Step for the Culture of Death

According to Wesley Smith in NRO, it is pre-emptive euthanasia so that organs can be harvested:

And killing isn’t the half of it. Some of the same bioethicists who have been telling us how right and moral it is to dehydrate Terri Schiavo have also urged that people like Terri — that is, human non-persons — be harvested or otherwise used as mere instrumentalities. Bioethicist big-wig Tom Beauchamp of Georgetown University has suggested that “because many humans lack properties of personhood or are less than full persons, they…might be aggressively used as human research subjects or sources of organs.”

Such thinking is not fringe in bioethics, a field in which the idea of killing for organs is fast becoming mainstream. In 1997, several doctors writing for the International Forum for Transplant Ethics opined in The Lancet that people (like Terri) diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state should be redefined as dead for purposes of organ procurement:

If the legal definition of death were to be changed to include comprehensive irreversible loss of higher brain function, it would be possible to take the life of a patient (or more accurately to stop the heart, since the patient would be defined as dead) by a lethal injection, and then to remove the organs needed for transplantation subject to the usual criteria for consent.
Knowing that this kind of thinking predominates in contemporary bioethics, I decided to bring up the matter in my Court TV debate with Bill Allen.

Wesley Smith: If Terri is not a person, should her organs be procured with consent?
Bill Allen: …Yes, I think there should be consent to harvest her organs, just as we allow people to say what they want done with their assets.

Put that in your hat and ponder it for a moment: If organ harvesting from the cognitively devastated were legal today — thank goodness, it isn’t — Michael Schiavo would be the one, no doubt sanctioned by Judge Greer, who could consent to doctors’ “stopping” Terri’s heart and harvesting her organs.

Smith seems to be one of the few in his field of bioethics opposing this future. In fact I think that soon "bioethics" will become a medical version of realpolitick in justifying the agenda of the Culture of Death. The road to this future has been paved by the re-defining of values. Take for example the definition of the value of human life. The acceptance of abortion has already laid the groundwork by denying the unborn rights as human beings. But I wonder to what degree the supporters of abortion will continue to feel comfortable with the extension of this definition beyond the unborn:

If you want to know how it became acceptable to remove tube-supplied food and water from people with profound cognitive disabilities, this exchange brings you to the nub of the Schiavo case — the “first principle,” if you will. Bluntly stated, most bioethicists do not believe that membership in the human species accords any of us intrinsic moral worth. Rather, what matters is whether “a being” or “an organism,” or even a machine, is a “person,” a status achieved by having sufficient cognitive capacities. Those who don’t measure up are denigrated as “non-persons.”

Allen’s perspective is in fact relatively conservative within the mainstream bioethics movement. He is apparently willing to accept that “minimal awareness would support some criterion of personhood” — although he doesn’t say that awareness is determinative. Most of his colleagues are not so reticent. To them, it isn’t sentience per se that matters but rather demonstrable rationality. Thus Peter Singer of Princeton argues that unless an organism is self-aware over time, the entity in question is a non-person. The British academic John Harris, the Sir David Alliance professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, England, has defined a person as “a creature capable of valuing its own existence.” Other bioethicists argue that the basic threshold of personhood should include the capacity to experience desire. James Hughes, who is more explicitly radical than many bioethicists (or perhaps, just more candid), has gone so far as to assert that people like Terri are “sentient property.”

So who are the so-called human non-persons? All embryos and fetuses, to be sure. But many bioethicists also categorize newborn infants as human non-persons (although some bioethicists refer to healthy newborns as “potential persons”). So too are those with profound cognitive impairments such as Terri Schiavo and President Ronald Reagan during the latter stages of his Alzheimer’s disease.

Personhood theory would reduce some of us into killable and harvestable people. Harris wrote explicitly that killing human non-persons would be fine because “Non-persons or potential persons cannot be wronged” by being killed “because death does not deprive them of something they can value. If they cannot wish to live, they cannot have that wish frustrated by being killed.”

Currently harvesting organs is illegal but the philosophical justification is already in place. Oregon's assisted suicide laws and their pro-death Sen Wyden are already setting some of the necessary precedents. Technically organ harvesting is illegal in the country where it is most widely practiced: China. But it seems evident that this brave new world will be here long before the moral opposition to it collapses.
papijoe 8:08 AM