Saturday, March 26, 2005

Rare Wisdom or Raw Emotion Disguised?

John Henniger's Opinion Journal column "In Soloman's Absence" was touted in a couple of places I've read today. The first was on The Right Coast and the second at Instapundit. Glenn Reynolds excerpt's the portion where Henniger has something good to say:
It is true that Judge Greer has ruled against Terri Schiavo's parents, the Schindlers, many times. But by my count, in the five years from the original circuit court decision, the rulings against them include the following:

Florida's appeals court: eight times; the Florida Supreme Court: five times; U.S. federal courts: five times; the U.S. Supreme Court: three times.

This is a lot of judges. Some of the opinions are long discourses combing back through the details of the case. It is difficult for me to believe that these are all "liberal" judges intent on "killing" Terri Schiavo.
In closing, Glenn argues thusly:
So the question is, do we overturn courts that are conscientiously doing their job because we think they got it wrong this time? Do we trust a bunch of Congressmen who often don't even read the bills they vote on to do a better job?

If you think that nobody should ever be taken off a feeding tube regardless of their condition, maybe so. But if you think the real question is whether Terry Schiavo is brain-dead or not, then it seems to me that absent some pretty strong reason to think the courts can't be trusted, it makes sense to let them do the job. And judging by all the discussion of her condition, the second question is the one that's the big issue.
I'll leave aside the first paragraph for it would make this post too long and force my post beyond the real aim: commenting on the basis of Mr. Henngier's column. Regarding the second paragraph, I would only correct Glenn's remark with respect to his using the term brain-dead. This term has not been used, that I am aware of, in the debate, except in comparison -- I have not seen brain-dead used to describe her condition, only PVS and if these are the same it has not been commonly noted as such. But that aside, her consciousness, if you will, has been made the bigger issue, in part because the other issues have been big losers and, at this time, this is the one that can prime the most emotion in counseling the conscience. Secondary and reinforcing to that issue has been the argument that starving her is painful, and wrong. I think if more time was allowed for this case, the secondary argument might even be the overriding issue with her state of consciousness becoming secondary.

Evidence to bolster these arguments have been countered but the emotion remains strong, strong enough to allow thinking to be overruled by feeling in an effort to persuade. In point of fact, Mr. Henniger's column does just that -- it argues emotion from the beginning with appeal to the story of Solomon -- and I think Mr. Henniger's argument is that the courts can't be trusted. Soloman is a judge who can be trusted, in Mr. Henniger's opinion, and of course, Solomon would obviously agree with Mr. Henniger, according to Mr Henniger.

The argument worked well for Mr. Henniger with Tom Smith of The Right Coast. Whether Mr. Smith was already of the opinion that it was wrong to grant guardianship to Michael Schiavo (he noted such in his post), I do not know, but Mr. Smith's description of the column as being "Rare Wisdom" certainly indicates he bought Mr. Henniger argument, not to mention what was in the rest of his post. Mr. Smith's post also goes on to use the not so rare appeal to feeling over thinking.

In contrast to Mr Henniger's assertion, I would posit that Solomon would have done no such thing, or at least he would have not jumped as quickly to the conclusion Mr. Henniger and Mr. Smith prefer. The story of Solomon was a story of a judge having the best interests of the child in mind and having to decide who also had them. Solomon, in this case presumed the child's interest, desire, if you will, was to live. Personally, I think that was a darn good presumption; it definitely was not one needing substantial prior evidence gathering before making.

But what would Solomon presume in the case of Terri Schiavo? It is, to put it precisely, a case of not knowing Terri Schiavo's interest. If he felt he could not decide himself, what precedents would he rely on, and what evidence would he muster to assist him in making a decision on which he could then test the contenders? I certainly do not know, and John Henniger does not either. I do think Mr. Henniger's column would not be one Solomon would find persuasive nor think it "Rare Wisdom."


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