Thursday, March 24, 2005

Hyperbole, Hysteria and Hypocrisy

Occasionally, deep philosophical discussion takes place on a grand scale. Now is one such time. The severely disabled woman in Florida, with whom virtually everyone is familiar, has been the catalyst for a national existential debate. More specifically, how and when a life may be prematurely extinguished.

There are various strata of opinion, but they can be distilled into two major camps:
1. those who believe that to end a suffering life is compassionate (euthanasia)
2. those who believe that life itself is sacred and must not be ended unnaturally (typically a religious view)

These two are essentially antithetical, but are similar in one important respect…both would, theoretically, allow for an irrevocable decision to be made on behalf of one, other than the actor. In such cases, the crucial missing element is the will of the one whose life is in question. Presuming that human beings are free and sovereign moral agents, life is contingent upon the consent of the individual.

In the environment of relative liberty in which we, Americans, live, forced euthanasia is not exactly up for consideration. However, for the record, this is no less than homicide (lest there be any confusion, power of attorney is tantamount to consent).

Now, the most vocal opponents of self termination are the aforementioned #2. I’m fairly familiar with their worldview, as I was indoctrinated with it as a child. The thinking is a bit of a logical contortion, starting with “creationism”, which leads to the idea that life begins at conception and must not be tampered with. As a ‘l’ibertarian, I can’t and won’t act to prevent anyone from living according to those principles. Unfortunately, those of this ilk don't reciprocate. Their intransigence is abetted by the erroneous view that the US Constitution is subordinate to the Bible, because many believe that America is a quasi Christian theocracy. The hypocrisy of this camp is revealed in their support of capital punishment and warfare. Apparently, some life is more valuable than others. Make no mistake, these folks see law as a means to affect societal change…into that of a moralistic utopia.

There is however, a minority opinion that the Constitutional protection of life supercedes the individual for whom the life exists. I must admit that, to me, this is the most enigmatic. This is akin to the anti-individual theories of collectivism and statism. Such thinking annihilates the concept of freedom, in that existence would serve anyone or anything but the one that lives the life itself.

My default position is maximum liberty. I value my life more than any other and I own me. I assume that everyone else (if one were to be honest) feels likewise. That said, we don’t live in a vacuum, but in a pluralistic society. As such, the “rule of law” is the best mechanism to promote liberty while ensuring equal protection. No code can be perfectly constructed and particular laws are not irrevocable. If and when the laws need to change, there is an orderly process articulated in the Constitution and is designed to respect the natural rights of all US citizens.

In the midst of the current media circus, the attempt to craft legislation in the throws of emotionalism could sacrifice individual liberty for the sake of narrow ideology. Those who are insisting upon state intervention ought to consider the implications of their demands...governments never willingly relinquish power. Therefore, government authority must be minimal. The "state" should be a neutral referee and not a player on a particular team.