Chomsky Award

Clayton Cramer wins the Chomsky Award for most ridiculous and offensive comparison I've seen since last time I visited Cramer's blog. Speaking of the ongoing euthanasia of Terri Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for the last 15 years and kept alive only through artificial life support, Cramer writes,

The more I think about this, the more angry I get. This is the modern equivalent of Dachau. Like so much of the German government's actions at the time, it is "legal" but so monstrous that no one should feel compelled to obey such laws.

Yes, Dachau. The merciful killing of an empty human shell with no possibility of recovery is the the modern equivalent of a Nazi concentration camp.

In the course of the war, the Dachau concentration camp increasingly became a site of mass murder: from October 1941 many thousands of Soviet prisoners of war were brought to Dachau and shot. Other prisoners, condemned for execution on Gestapo orders, were transported to Dachau and executed.

A large number of prisoners were abused by SS doctors for medical experiments; an unknown number of prisoners suffered agonizing deaths in the course of atmospheric pressure, hypothermia, malaria and many other experiments.

Beginning in January 1942, more than 3,000 prisoners were sent to the mental home at Hartheim Castle near Linz on the so-called invalid transports and murdered with poison gas.

Besides the 30,000 recorded dead, thousands of prisoners who were not registered lost their life at the Dachau concentration camp. They died of starvation, disease, exhaustion, degradation, from blows, and by torture; they were shot, hung, and killed by injections.

Compare:

Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of geriatric and internal medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that while coma patients recover, patients in a persistent vegetative state do not.

He also said it was wrong to characterize Schiavo's death as starvation.

"What happens is she loses fluid from her body, she enters a peaceful coma and she gradually passes away, very gently and very peacefully," he said.

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I find it telling that a

I find it telling that a “libertarian” like Micha trusts the U.S. judicial system on this issue.

How is that telling? There are good reasons for libertarians to oppose monopolistic government courts, but that doesn't mean these courts never get anything right. And I certainly trust the judicial system more than I trust either the state or federal legislatures (neither of which have an obligation to justify their reasoning based on precedent and other laws) and more than I trust Schiavo's parents, who have religious reasons for wanting to keep her alive, and are willing to go to almost any length - including making up vicious accusations against the husband - to get their way.

Brian, It would seem that

Brian,

It would seem that the only relevant parties here are the people on the hook for paying for the care of the shell. Why should I have a say in this matter to rule one way or the other?

In all cases of euthanasia, there are always two questions that need to be kept distinct, but are nevertheless often confused: (a) Who should decide? and (b)What should the decision be? Even if we don't have a say in this matter, we can still have an informed opinion about (b). And with regards to (a), at least three courts have ruled in favor of the husband. So unless the pro-life side thinks they have access to evidence that these courts did not know about, I don't really see what the argument is.

In the absence of definite proof of Terri Schiavo’s desires, she asks, why not choose life? Who’s hurt by it? If the materialists are right, and we are our brain functions, then Terri is gone forever – so she isn’t hurt. Her husband can get a divorce, so he isn’t hurt. The parents are willing to take care of her, so the state’s pocketbook isn’t hurt. So what’s the harm? Why not let her live?

This assumes we do not have "definite proof" of her wishes. But we do have such proof - or at least proof that held up in court and convinced all of the judges. Second, who is hurt by it? Both her and her husband are hurt by it. She is hurt because (a) her wishes are not being respected and (b) her body still experiences suffering and pain. Her husband is hurt, at least in the legal sense, since his role as legal guardian is being violated by third parties who should have no say in the matter.

And I am skeptical that only private parties have been paying for her care for the last 15 years. These cases notoriously cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

But precisely because of the definition of PVS, a human in such a condition cannot really be said to suffer. Indeed that is the argument that pulling the plug won’t increase misery, because it will be “painless” (painless precisely because there’s nothing to feel or register pain in any coherent manner). Suffering can only come from a developed enough nervous system that can process, endure, and remember the pain qua pain.

I don't think any of this follows. It is clear from the sources I've quoted that people in a persistent vegetative state can experience pain. Whether or not that pain can be remembered and processed in the same way that fully conscious people experience it is a different question. Suffering doesn't require that higher level of consciousness, though. Immediate pain is enough. And it doesn't follow that pulling the plug will cause her pain. Perhaps the pain of starvation requires a different level of brain function that direct stimuli like needles. This is a question for the doctors to decide. One point that should no noted, though, is that the only reason she is being starved and not killed quickly using more direct approaches is because the law as written does not allow active euthanasia. That is a law that needs to be changed.

This may be true but it smuggles in facts not agreed to beforehand, as well as making the rather large assumption that she didn’t want to continue living in her present state. But that begs the question again of whether or not “she” is actually there, which is precisely what Michael Schiavo doesn’t argue, and apparently is unwilling to argue.

Huh? That doesn't follow at all. She claimed that she didn't want to continue living in such a state before she ever entered a coma. And two people besides the husband confirm that this was her wish. She need not be conscious or mentally capable of having preferences now in order for us to respect her wishes she made in the past. That was precisely my metaphysical point - that we can have obligations to people even after they are dead.

Pain stimuli is the only thing that can evoke a response from a PVS human organism. Of which dehydrating to death is one of the more painful stimuli known.

But this isn't necessarily true. It might be; I don't know, I am not a doctor. But it also might not be. She may not have the capacity to feel pain from dehydration even though she can feel pain from other stimuli.

And the reasoning of the doctor seems to beg the question- if “losing water makes you drop into a coma” then what precisely is a PVS? Something higher in functionality than a coma? It seems like sophistry to me, of a deliberatively deceptive nature that should be morally blameworthy if we enjoy or are in favor of honest argumentation.

But these are factual questions, not purely logical ones. PVS is indeed something different than a coma, where the patient can appear "awake" at times, unlike a coma, and where coma patients don't necessarily feel pain, a PVS patient might. These are not questions that can be answered using pure argument and a priori logic. Or maybe they can: Austrians should open their own medical school. :razz:

If you trust the U.S.

If you trust the U.S. judicial system more than her parents, I'd have to think that you are insane.

Micha, In all cases of

Micha,

In all cases of euthanasia, there are always two questions that need to be kept distinct, but are nevertheless often confused: (a) Who should decide? and (b)What should the decision be? Even if we don’t have a say in this matter, we can still have an informed opinion about (b). And with regards to (a), at least three courts have ruled in favor of the husband. So unless the pro-life side thinks they have access to evidence that these courts did not know about, I don’t really see what the argument is.

An informed opinion on what the decision should be is both interesting and praiseworthy in a general academic sense, but is also irrelevant to the greater question of, if not (a) but maybe (z), which is whether or not the decision was made correctly, or correctly decided. I'm not sure who said it, but I think it is safe to say that if not in general than in a great many cases "the law is an ass." If we have an informed opinion on (b) and on (a) then we can certainly criticize decisions on (a) and not follow a quantity theory of law where the # of decisions in favor of X indicates its general correctness (see also the # of decisions in favor of chattel slavery for example).

Which brings us to:

This assumes we do not have “definite proof” of her wishes. But we do have such proof - or at least proof that held up in court and convinced all of the judges. Second, who is hurt by it? Both her and her husband are hurt by it. She is hurt because (a) her wishes are not being respected and (b) her body still experiences suffering and pain. Her husband is hurt, at least in the legal sense, since his role as legal guardian is being violated by third parties who should have no say in the matter.

The first part is again the ol' "law is an ass" bit. Having looked over reviews of the evidence in favor of the "I don't want to live this way" it still seems a bit sketchy, and the nonscientific state of modern medicine, especially with regard to difficult-to-diagnose conditions such as PVS and the bias towards prognoses of 'no possible recovery', I'm still not sure the courts decided this one correctly. But I'll grant agnosticism here.

As I mentioned before, and as Peggy Noonan points out, if this truly is a matter of "a shell" then there is no meaningful talk of Terri being hurt at all; she's not there anymore. Only if you posit life after death or a persistent spirit aware of the condition of the body despite there being no meaningful mental/human activity within the brain, can one think of there being a hurt to Terri herself. Or, of course, if you take the position that a meaningful (yet irrevocably diminished) existence of Terri is still extant within the body, then she's being hurt.

In the case of her parents, they have an interest as well (a greater one, given the genetics) and it is well recognized that third parties with such an interest can contest guardianship if they believe the guardian isn't acting in the interests of their ward.

Regardless, the legal/procedural point is much more compelling than either an appeal to metaphysics or biology, as I don't accept that a non-functioning higher nervous system is capable of feeling pain in any socially meaningful way.

And I am skeptical that only private parties have been paying for her care for the last 15 years. These cases notoriously cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

All I can say is that the reports on the case say that Michael Schiavo has paid for the care using a $1 million malpractice suit award, and that there is money remaining (though not much). Whether or not it has cost the taxpayers extra (from medical costs; of course there is a taxpayer expense to litigation, but that's neither here nor there) is moot at this point, as there are millionaires willing to pony up the dough now (as well as any number of fundraising opportunities that no doubt would raise a considerable amount of money given the outcry).

I don’t think any of this follows. It is clear from the sources I’ve quoted that people in a persistent vegetative state can experience pain. Whether or not that pain can be remembered and processed in the same way that fully conscious people experience it is a different question. Suffering doesn’t require that higher level of consciousness, though. Immediate pain is enough. And it doesn’t follow that pulling the plug will cause her pain.

We seem to be at a critical impasse. I do not accept/agree that suffering can occur in the absence of higher levels of consciousness. If the medical reports are true, the only thing really going on in Terri's brain is impulses from the brain stem. This is extremely primitive neural functioning, on the order of maintaining autonomic functions (breathing, heart pumping) and processing gross stimulus/responses. A cat can feel pain; a planarian cannot be said to feel pain, so long as we don't warp the definition of pain down to an unrecognizably broad & undescriptive level. A planarian has stimulus reponse and will react to injury, but pain? I can't buy that. A planarian has no memory; it lives in the Eternal Now. A convincing case has not yet been made to me that organisms with ganglia or less can meaningfully experience pain.

Perhaps the pain of starvation requires a different level of brain function that direct stimuli like needles. This is a question for the doctors to decide.

I'm not sure if you'll consider "The Weekly Standard" a reputable source (it *is* a conservative opinion magazine), but there was an article from '03 on Kate Adamson, who was also diagnosed as PVS yet is now walking around & talking, etc:

At age 33, Kate Adamson collapsed from a devastating and incapacitating stroke. She was utterly unresponsive and was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Because of a bowel obstruction she developed, her nourishment was stopped so that doctors could perform surgery.

Adamson eventually recovered sufficiently to author "Kate's Journey: Triumph Over Adversity," in which she tells the terrifying tale. Rather than being unconscious with no chance of recovery as her doctors believed, she was actually awake and aware but unable to move any part of her body voluntarily. (This is known as a "locked-in state.") When she appeared recently on "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly asked Adamson about the dehydration experience:

O'REILLY: When they took the feeding tube out, what went through your mind?

ADAMSON: When the feeding tube was turned off for eight days, I thought I was going insane. I was screaming out in my mind, "Don't you know I need to eat?" And even up until that point, I had been having a bagful of Ensure as my nourishment that was going through the feeding tube. At that point, it sounded pretty good. I just wanted something. The fact that I had nothing, the hunger pains overrode every thought I had.

O'REILLY: So you were feeling pain when they removed your tube?

ADAMSON: Yes. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. To say that--especially when Michael [Schiavo] on national TV mentioned last week that it's a pretty painless thing to have the feeding tube removed--it is the exact opposite. It was sheer torture, Bill.

O'REILLY: It's just amazing.

ADAMSON: Sheer torture . . .

Further, there is this quote on the course of dehydration of a human body and the physiological response:

After seven to nine days [from commencing dehydration] they begin to lose all fluids in the body, a lot of fluids in the body. And their blood pressure starts to go down. When their blood pressure goes down, their heart rate goes up. . . . Their respiration may increase and then . . .
the blood is shunted to the central part of the body from the periphery of the body. So, that usually two to three days prior to death, sometimes four days, the hands and the feet become extremely cold. They become mottled. That is you look at the hands and they have a bluish appearance. And the mouth dries a great deal, and the eyes dry a great deal and other parts of the body become mottled. And that is because the blood is now so low in the system it's shunted to the heart and other visceral organs and away from the periphery of the body . . .

In functioning humans pain is felt even while sleeping (unless under anaesthesia which blocks pain signals, or on a depressant so heavy that even the brain stem is shut down, forcing the patient to be on a heart/lung machine), so the glib reference to sliding into a "coma" making it all OK is rather breathtaking. As mentioned above, a PVS patient, by definition, responds only to gross pain stimuli. Kate Adamson was "locked in" and felt it all despite having eyes closed and seemingly in a coma during operations, etc, and was in absolute agony. The stimulus reponse systems of her body would of course capture the fact that her tissues and organs were in vital need of water and thus send 'pain' signals to the brain.

So again we're left with the main question- is there, or is there not a Terri Schiavo inside the body that can feel, or at the very least an animal-level consciousness that can suffer?

If it is as Michael Schiavo and the lefty blogs claim, that she is merely a shell with no human being left within, then again there can be no argument for suffering for there is nothing to suffer. Suffering is a subjective, not objective, experience. If there is no subject there, there is no suffering. If there is no votive force to do more than simply react to the environment in a basic, physiological way, there is no suffering.

Hence if Schiavo is a broccoli then there's no harm to her (she's dead) in keeping the body alive, great harm to her parents to let her die, and some harm to the husband whose will is thwarted (at the very least, even assuming that Terri didn't want her body to remain alive after she was gone, it must be acknowledged that effecting Michael's will is as much a part of the contention as anything else; and I don't grant the assumption of Terri's wishes, despite what the courts have said- though that is just my informed opinion on what should have happened).

But if we accept that there is suffering, we are likewise enjoined from dehydrating/starving her to death, for that condition is verified (by a first person experience, no less) to be horrifically painful. The fact that the body shuts down and starts to decay while alive should horrify anyone concerned with mitigating or minimizing suffering.

One point that should no noted, though, is that the only reason she is being starved and not killed quickly using more direct approaches is because the law as written does not allow active euthanasia. That is a law that needs to be changed.

Here I totally agree. If you're going to kill someone, kill them. It is more merciful to simply inject substances to shut her heart down than to undergo a 2 week dehydration (or worse if they just take her food away; try a month or more while the body slowly consumes itself).

Huh? That doesn’t follow at all. She claimed that she didn’t want to continue living in such a state before she ever entered a coma. And two people besides the husband confirm that this was her wish. She need not be conscious or mentally capable of having preferences now in order for us to respect her wishes she made in the past. That was precisely my metaphysical point - that we can have obligations to people even after they are dead.

Again, I don't grant that 3 people's testimony regarding her wishes is necessarily dispositive here. But I'm not a lawyer. I will grant, though, that if true, then her property right to her own body would be the deciding factor and so her body should be allowed to die (or killed, whatever). Absent a living will or some definitive, provable statement, though, the manifest and massive conflict of interest of Michael Schiavo should have guided the court to release him of guardianship (and financial obligation) and given it to the parents. Genetics trumps social relation in this regard.

If Terri is actually there in a meaningful sense, I'd say your point is more salient, but then so are those from the parents, so it seems a wash in the end.

But these are factual questions, not purely logical ones. PVS is indeed something different than a coma, where the patient can appear “awake” at times, unlike a coma, and where coma patients don’t necessarily feel pain, a PVS patient might. These are not questions that can be answered using pure argument and a priori logic. Or maybe they can: Austrians should open their own medical school.

Having more than a passing knowledge of biology (BS/MS level) leads me to have informed opinions on this matter; not sure where the a priori bit comes from. A PVS patient has (if you accept the clinical definition as true) less cognitive function than a coma patient. It is also not at all shown that people believed to be in comas do not feel pain (see Kate Adamson). I also, from a biological standpoint, do not accept that you can be both a vegetable and feel pain/suffer; you must have at least a higher animal level of cognition intact. This is a critical problem for the "Terri is a vegetable" argument. It cannot simultaneously be that she is suffering and yet we can dehydrate her to death with a clear conscience that she's not suffering more. That much, at least, is logic, though the argument is based on biology.

For the record, I've also looked at the medical reports which say that most of her cerebral cortex has shrunken away and what remains is cerebral fluid. UNlike the case with Kate Adamson, I don't think she's locked in, and I don't think theres any Terri left at all. I think the parents' wish here is futile. I don't think the courts did a good job in balancing interests here, and I'm doubly puzzled at the apparent eagerness amongst lefty and left-sympathetic liberals that Terri actually DIE vs. maintaining the status quo. What's so offensive about keeping a body alive that is making the left as equally and oppositely agitated as the right?

Micha, I did somewhat

Micha, I did somewhat misread what he said, but so are you I think. He's fine with these types of killings ("if the patient has clearly stated that this is his or her goal, and there is no question that the patient has made this request, I can weep a little, but accept it."), but finds how this situation is being handled appalling. I can't say that he's totally wrong. Partly wrong, but not totally.

Scott, I am sure most

Scott,

I am sure most Republicans understand this is showboating. As are the steriod hearings. I'm not a Republican, and perhaps no one else here. We understand it too.

The other issues I listed were examples of where the Liberals got things wrong and obviously so. The Dan Rather/Bush memos were obvious forgeries yet liberal blogs spent much effort claiming they might be real. The Swift Vets obviously servered right next to Kerry. Etc.

I just found the notion that somehow the Liberal blogs were giving better information ludicrous. Mainly because for some reason the internet has caused the most looney of their ideas to have more voice.

Even it this case, and I do believe the Republicans are showboating, the liberal blogs go too far, or misrepresent things. On first reading I was willing to accept your post as written. But then I saw some posts on blogs from the other side and the post seemed to extreme. See here and here for rebuttals.

In my political naivety I voted for Carter and Dukakis. Then I wised up for the next couple of elections and voted for whatever libertarian candidate. Then this past year the libertarians ran a complete idiot who doesn't get the idea that even in a Libertarian society there would be drivers licenses. I hated Kerry so much (the self-serving lying back stabbing bastard) that I voted for Bush despite his bad economic policies (which Kerry would have done just like Clinton did).

Something I have come to recognize in this process is that the press here in the U.S. is heavily slanted to the left. I find that offensive, and I am boycotting the main offenders.

The lefty blogs get even these sort of issues wrong. For instance, Fox news was extremely balanced on the news story about Jane Fonda and Kerry being photographed together. Yet all you heard in the lefty blogs was that Fox had perpetrated a hoax. Fact was they showed the picture and said it was FAKED. Yet the blogs claimed the opposite. CBS has yet to admit that the Bush memos are forgeries. CNN executive was spreading false stories that US soldiers were targeting journalists.

There was an incredible amount of intimidation of Republicans during this election. Everything from bullets being shot through campaign headquaters, to forced entry, to sign stealing. Also there were incredible numbers of incidents of voter fraud on the part of the democrats. They were paying crack addicts to fill out multiple voter registrations, and there are indictments of democrats in Florida right now. You wouldn't know this from the liberal blogs. In fact, they were squealing as if the opposite was the truth. Their only pet "example" of republican fraud didn't even pan out.

Dave, Hey, I thought you

Dave,

Hey, I thought you guys were anarchists. Everything handled locally and personally.

I'm not an anarchist. I just don't believe it could work. That doesn't mean however that I can prove it wouldn't work.

However, your statement assumes something about anarchy that is not neccesarily so. There is no reason why institutions couldn’t arise under anarchy that are non-local and non-personal. Furthermore, there is no reason why, under such a society people couldn’t argue non-local issues. Especially if it involved a non-local organization they were members of.

Certainly institutions would arise to handle marriage contracts, and judicial systems to adjudicate such contracts. Certainly, this is exactly the kind of dispute that would end up in such a court.

One problem I do have with some anarchists is what seems to be their belief that wars would not occur under anarchy. I don’t think this is the case. There are plenty of goings on in the world today that members of an anarchist society would feel justified in fighting against. Heck, one of the protection agencies might just send a force over to the Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere to deal with some of their crap.

OT but, since I can't find

OT but, since I can't find an email address, ...

Brian Doss asked about solutions to reduce the comment-moderation load. I'd just like to report that I've had practically no problems with comment spam on my site (also using WordPress) since I added a publicly visible posting password. Any human can see on the submission page what the password is and enter it into the correct field, but the spambots have (so far) not caught on. The one problem I did have was not actually with comments but with trackbacks, which I simply turned off. While I implemented this feature by modifying the code myself, I know that there are several prepackaged patches to do essentially the same thing. It might be worth looking into.

Cool, thanks!

Cool, thanks!