Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The UFL Conference: Terri Schiavo Panel

As I mentioned in my previous post, last Friday I participated in the annual conference of the University Faculty For Life. I was invited by the conference organizers to present a paper on the Terri Schiavo case, as part of a panel with Dr. Mark Latkovic, professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and Richard Myers, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law.

My paper dealt with the Terri Schiavo case as a cultural indicator, that is, how the discussion of the issues surrounding Terri's right to life indicates where our society has gone, and where it may be going. The abstract of my paper is this:
The Terri Schiavo case illustrates an ongoing shift in American culture away from what might be called a "reverence-for-life" philosophy, in which human life would be seen as worthwhile in se, to what I tentatively describe as a "justification-of-life" mindset, in which the social presumption (or at least the presumption in the academic/intellectual elite) is that Terri's life, and the lives of those like her, is "not worth living", and that the burden is upon those who would "prolong" Terri's life to justify it. This shift in attitudes has been abetted by changes in medical-ethical language and terminology: Even the use of the word "prolong" is significant, as it connotes something being extended longer than is necessary or natural. Other examples are the widespread adoption of a definition of food & water as "treatment", or the change in legal classification of certain groups of incomptetent persons, such as the change in Florida statute which specifically denied those diagnosed as vegetative from certain legal protections, such as the right to a guardian ad litem. The misdiagnosis of Terri's condition, as documented by my NRO piece "Starving For a Fair Diagnosis", and the characterization of her condition by those in the "right-to-die" movement, was carefully tailored so as to place Terri within the "penumbra" of these changes in attitudes and changes of definition, so as to present a justifiable case for ending the life of a non-terminally ill patient. The origins of these shifts in understanding and attitudes is part of what may be called a "culture of hopelessness", which is a corollary of the Culture of Death.

I was gratified by the turnout for our panel: there were about 40 people there, and they had some good questions and remarks during the question-and-answer period. I met some great people and saw some old friends, such as Dr. Latkovic (one of my former professors from Sacred Heart) and Dr. Janet Smith. I was especially honored in that pro-life pioneer Dr. Jack Wilke (one of the founders of the NRLC) was present for our panel.

My paper, along with the others, will be published as part of the Proceedings of the conference. Once I have submitted the final edited version, I will see about having it posted online.