Matters of Life and Death

Terri Schiavo. I cannot think of any single issue, ever, where my views have changed so profoundly and dramatically in such a short period of time. When I first mentioned the Save Terri campaign here, it was mostly as a freindly gesture to Sherri Reese, whose blog I've enjoyed greatly. Until I came across Sherri's post, I barely knew - or cared - who Terri Schiavo was. If I thought about it at all, I pigeonholed it as "some right-wing cause".

The more I learned, though, the more I realized that this case was NOT, as I had assumed, the case of someone living in excruciating pain; nor someone who had left explicit, written instructions that were being ignored by meddlesome right-to-life absolutists. I began to understand that this was a case too important to let my own prejudices and stereotypes about social conservatives cloud my judgment. Like the liberation of Iraq, it was a case onto which the Left had, for the most part, projected its own ideas - and had gotten it all wrong.

After reading Blogs for Terri, liberal "save Terri" sites like Liberals for Terri and Kesher Talk, and the pro-death side's feeble justifications for its position, I realized that I needed to re-think a lot of my assumptions about life, death, and culture. My previous Terri roundup is here.

Abortion. I have always been, and remain, a fence-sitter on the abortion debate. I have never formed a strong opinion on the subject one way or the other; although I will say that I have come to view the pro-life side with greater respect in recent years. I found this pro-life post from Sherri, which focuses on women's empowerment and responsibility, especially persuasive. There's also a gay pro-life organization called PLAGAL.

I'm not ready to sign on with either side in the debate right now, but I do want to mention one thing about the abortion debate. I can't imagine how the experience of having an abortion - however compelling the circumstances may be - can be anything but traumatic for the woman. And I wonder if pro-choice groups have sometimes downplayed this factor in the interests of making abortion seem more palatable.

Death penalty. I'm against the death penalty in all but extremely rare cases (e.g. Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden). I do not subscribe to the slogan that "capital punishment is murder" because I think it's a stupid moral equivalency. There is, after all, a difference between what the state is empowered to do and what citizens are allowed or forbidden to do. (The state has a duty to impose unpleasant consequences upon people who commit crimes, in order to make crime less attractive. "Death penalty = murder" makes as much sense as saying "prison=kidnapping" or "fines=theft".) But a death wrongly imposed cannot be revoked or commuted; and I do not see what an execution accomplishes that a life sentence - a REAL life sentence - does not. I think a death penalty puts too much power in the hands of the state.

"Matters of Life and Death" is a new feature and I hope to explore these issues and others in greater depth, in future installments. For now, I need to take a break. Stay tuned.