Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Human Non-Persons

Wesley Smith at NRO noted the following in a debate he had about the Schiavo case:

My debate about Terri Schiavo’s case with Florida bioethicist Bill Allen on Court TV Online eventually got down to the nitty-gritty:

Wesley Smith: "Bill, do you think Terri is a person?"

Bill Allen: "No, I do not. I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood. Even minimal awareness would support some criterion of personhood, but I don't think complete absence of awareness does."

If you want to know how it became acceptable to remove tube-supplied food and water from people with profound cognitive disabilities, this exchange brings you to the nub of the Schiavo case — the “first principle,” if you will. Bluntly stated, most bioethicists do not believe that membership in the human species accords any of us intrinsic moral worth. Rather, what matters is whether “a being” or “an organism,” or even a machine, is a “person,” a status achieved by having sufficient cognitive capacities. Those who don’t measure up are denigrated as “non-persons.”

This is the situation we are in now. If you don't meet some societal definition of personhood, then you don't have rights. Thus killing the unborn is all right, because they aren't persons yet (although, if damage is done to the unborn by anybody except the mother, there is a growing amount of case law giving at least some status as a person0. Killing the severely handicapped is all right because their reasoning ability is so low that they have lost their personhood, and therefore are trash ready to be taken out.

Part of my problem with this form of ethics is that it allows a shifting definition of who should be a person. Does the late stage alzheimer's patient lose their personhood? How about the person who has cerebal palsey and has deep trouble communicating? A person who is in a "locked in" but thinking form of disease - ALS, late stage Parkinson's, and a few other diseases cause this, along with trauma - do they lose their personhood too?

This is an important place to think about what we are doing, and define it carefully. If we make personhood the determining factor, who is going to define it?

Wow, you brought up some great points. I thoroughly agree.
Very well written. I think I will take some of these points for my blogburst on the ACLU's position on euthanasia and assisted suicide tomorrow. Thanks, Jay
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?