If the statements coming out of Washington are to be taken literally, American Republicans have seen the light and their politics will henceforth be far to the left. Hallelujah.
In the course of defending Terri Schiavo's right to remain on intravenous feeding and other medical life supports, President George Bush and Congressional leaders are defining the "sanctity of life" in an unprecedentedly earthly way.
Schiavo has been diagnosed as being in a "persistent vegetative state" since 1990. That's a medical term for a condition that's one step removed from a coma and much more severe than what the media are calling "severe brain damage" or what many politicians are calling a "mental disability." Schiavo's cerebral cortex, the portion of the brain that's wired for thought, creativity, emotion and responsiveness, doesn't function any more, and won't ever get better.
Many people, secular and otherwise, think the brain has a lot to do with what makes people human. There's a built-in bias, of course, because the brain, which does not suffer from low self-esteem, is what's telling us that the brain makes us human. If the stomach, every bit as complex, unique and essential an organ as the brain, could form thoughts, it would tell us that the stomach is what makes us human, and it wouldn't be far wrong.
Most people have allowed themselves to be swayed by their minds on this issue.
But the people making the laws in Washington don't believe this elitist left-brain ideology, brought to us by the same brainiacs who gave us theories of evolution and anthropology. Those who believe Schiavo has a right to remain on medical life support don't think her right to life depends on her having a working brain. Nor, in their argument, does the right of a fetus depend on its having a brain. Rights are about the "sanctity of life," not its braininess.
There's something very egalitarian about that.
Take Tom DeLay, leader of the majority Republican team in the House. "It won't take a miracle to help Terri Schiavo," the Texan says. "It will only take the medical care and therapy that all patients deserve."
Watch for this man to become a champion of Canadian-style medicare, which grants all citizens the right to quality medical care irrespective of their right to pay for it.
I admit DeLay shows more concern for the Schiavo case than he did for a case that never went anywhere in his home state, where Texas Children's Hospital on March 15 pulled the plug on six-month-old Sun Hudson despite protests from his mom, who believed deeply that her baby would overcome his incapacitating birth defects. I'll leave it for the cynics to say that having white skin is more important to the sanctity of human life than having a brain.
Check out some of the other statements making the rounds. Florida governor Jeb Bush, who's championed Schiavo's rights to remain in a persistent vegetative state for several years, praised Congress for overturning his state's laws because "we in government have a duty to protect the weak, disabled and vulnerable."
Watch for this man to become a champion of progressive tax laws that roll back all the tax cuts that have gone to the strong, able and all-powerful in recent times.
When I read that statement, it clicked in my mind that I rarely see disabled people out in public or on the streets when I'm in the U.S., the way I'm used to seeing them on the street in Canada. I always assumed it was because U.S. streets were designed for cars and drivers, not people, let alone people with disabilities. But now I'm looking to see the rights of disabled people getting big-time support.
Senate majority leader Dr. Bill Frist, who's led the charge on the Schiavo case in that house, said the law rushed through Washington during the Easter holidays to prolong her persistent vegetative state will allow her parents to claim her constitutional rights prohibiting "the withholding of food, water or medical treatment necessary to sustain life."
Watch for this man to be sent to the United Nations, where the U.S. has always voted, often alone, against the human right to food, water or medical treatment. On second thought, I'd rather see him sent to the World Trade Organization, which is presently going through a major fight as leaders of citizen organizations try to get the WTO to recognize that the right to food and water and governments' duty to protect that right take precedence over "the rights" of trade, as if trade had any rights that could be conceived in language appropriate for the dignity and sanctity of the human person.
President Bush, after signing the law giving carriage of the Schiavo case to federal court, said, "In a case like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favour of life.'
That's another way of describing the precautionary principle, much beloved by environmentalists because it recognizes that the richness, complexity, surprises and mystery of life surpass all understanding of science and regulators, so we need to err on the side of safety.
Until he made this statement, President Bush had always favoured a bring-it-on attitude to new technologies, especially those related to genetic engineering, without any concern for unacticipated and unmanageable risks. Maybe I'm naive to interpret these words from Washington literally. Or maybe I misunderstand the cult group that uses Christian churches as a front organization to run politics. That group believes that the sanctity of life depends on an otherworldly soul that inhabits the body, an invisible BlackBerry that provides direct communication with the maker, but not on anything functioning within the body, lowly animal things like brains or stomachs or other organs that need support and healing - and therefore rights - from others. Maybe that's why Washington legislators who proclaim the right to life in fact have no regard for it whatsoever.