22 March, 2005

The incivility of public debate

I have to confess that I was very uncomfortable posting yesterday's first entry, Just shoot her, already! I have lots of reasons.

Yet I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I was with something I observed today in the office. One of my officemates told me that he found this whole situation ironic (which I also noted in a previous entry, Homo homini lupus). Naturally, he was only talking about how the conservatives in Congress were arguing an unusual position: interfering in a matter reserved to the states. No one seems to comment on the self-contradictions involved in the reasoning of those who support the decision to starve her to death (that is, no one I hear commenting on NPR or similar "unbiased" media outlets).

At this moment, one of my officemates — a very intelligent and, doubtless, decent man, mind — came into the office and heard us discussing the matter. He was outraged and had no qualms about sharing his outrage over how Michael Schiavo had been smeared with ad hominem attacks by those who disagree with him. Here are two examples:

  • Michael Schiavo did care for Terri for several years (I think that "four" was the number given), and she was cared for very well during that time, having no bed lesions, even though some people told him there was no hope;
  • Michael Schiavo did have an MRI done, and the photos are available online.
My colleague was outraged that these people were lying about this man.

I was surprised by the remark on the MRI, since I had read a few days ago that no MRI was done (despite the fact that one cannot accurately diagnose PVS without an MRI). So, I challenged him on this fact: I asked him for a definite reference, since I would like to see it.

He went to his desk to do so, continuing on about these liars. I lost my patience and exclaimed something to this effect: They might not be liars; they could simply be misinformed. The fact that people disagree with us doesn't mean we can attack them as evil. We as academics ought to be above that.

My argument did have an effect. To my colleague's credit, he also admitted some minutes later, I stand corrected. There was no MRI done, only a CAT scan.

Good. My understanding of the facts remains unchanged.

But you, kind reader, have been reading this blog for several days, and you surely know that I am livid over this whole affair. I repeat my two main points:
  • if her parents want to care for her, they ought to be allowed to care for her regardless of her wishes when she had full command of her facilities;
  • if she is to be "allowed to die", it is more humane simply to shoot her than to starve her — or use lethal injection, or whatever it takes.
If, kind reader, you feel that my expression of these points has been unfair or uncivil to Mr. Schiavo or his supporters, I would like to know what it is. Do not hesitate to criticize me; admonishment is at times the first step on the road to repentance, and kindness sometimes takes a stern face.

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