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The Economics of Life

The pro-life movement is celebrating a victory, because after over 30 years of Roe v. Wade, the scourge of abortion, or at least public support for it, has waned and is now the minority position. South Dakota passed an outright abortion ban, believing the time was right to challenge the law. Poll after poll demonstrates that the public knows that conception is the “moment that changes everything” where a new life is created and begins its journey to birth. Are we a pro-life nation then? The answer to that question is still ‘no’.

It seems a contradiction to say while most oppose abortion it does not follow the nation has become pro-life. That is, until you take a look at the new battlefields of the pro-life movement. Terri Schiavo is the most popular example.

An unbiased observer would certainly be taken aback at the concept of the individual making decisions for Terri was a husband who had since gotten engaged to another woman and had two children with her. There is an obvious conflict of interest there. However, the public was largely unconcerned with that.

The point where support for Terri fell the most was when the cameras showed images of Terri Schiavo to the world. The public saw someone who was unmistakably alive but unmistakably having a “low quality of life”. Most felt that it was not worth being alive in those circumstances. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what Michael Schiavo’s motivations were or his conflict of interest. He was making the “right” decision to end a life not worth living.

It is known that the abortion movement grew out of the eugenics movement and it should come as no surprise that the husband of the lawyer who litigated Roe v. Wade lobbied Bill Clinton to approve RU-486, not for easy access to abortion or women’s rights, but because “twenty-six million food stamp recipients is (sic) more than the economy can stand.” It isn’t about life, it is about a productive life (in Ron Weddington’s case, where the financial output is greater than the input).

This can also been seen in the recent burst of “futile care” cases (where hospitals unilaterally decide who should die independent of the families wishes or objections). While few would argue that those who are alive only with the help of life support equipment (i.e. respirators, not a feeding tube) can be “unplugged”, futile care laws have been used to try to kill children, including a child perfectly able to heal, the uninsured, and Katrina evacuees that were “no worth moving”. With talk of universal health care, one wonders if that will finally put complete control on whether (poor) patients should be left untreated.

One could argue that doctors know best and if they determine care is futile, then it really is. However, in the case of Haleigh (the girl who recovered above), doctors can be and are wrong. Medical advances developed a year later may have helped Terri Schiavo recover. Then there is the possibility of using a futile care law to avoid dealing with poor and uninsured patients and leaving them to die legally. After all, more is going into them than is coming out.

Going back to the original premise, it can be seen that the nation isn’t becoming more pro-life, per se. What has lead to the downfall of support of abortion is the realization that unborn children have the potential to be productive citizens unless some external force prevents them. The rise of an anti-abortion culture is the convergence of pro-life forces with those who believe that the potential of productive life should be allowed.

What the pro-life movement has yet to effectively challenge is the rising notion of reducing human life to matters of economics. Taking whatever subjective equation is used, if someone comes out having a “negative” balance, they can be killed. If they have a positive balance, they can live. This quantification system, even if it aligns with those against abortion, is decidedly not pro-life, usually because the poor and minorities (however they are determined) tend to cluster on the “negative” balance side of the equation.

The value of a human life has been determined. The problem is that those subjective measures mean that the most vulnerable in society will be the ones most likely to be considered “without value”. Fighting against the valuation of life is the next big pro-life challenge.

About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • Bill

    Yet you present no evidence to support your statement “that it was futile to keep her alive.”

    As for the issue of ignoring end-of-life wishes, within her own faith tradition, the current “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” makes it clear it is the patient, not a family member, who ultimately determines whether or not a medical treatment constitutes extraordinary care, which can be forgone:

    Neither you or I have standing to make such a judgement.

    And when the patient makes such a judgement to discontinue care, following those guidelines, it is not suicide, though it lead to their death.

  • John Bambenek

    It was futile in the way it was defined… she had no hope of recovery. I don’t need to present evidence, that’s the definition of the word. If you want evidence, I suggest you look at OED as to what futile means.

    If you want to talk about her faith tradition, one which I share and am a graduate student in theology of that tradition, you are making a radical misinterpretation of what that means. Food and water is specifically and clearly outside the scope of that directive and it may never be withheld for the purpose of speeding the death of a patient. That Catholic Church is quite clear in its position that the giving of food and water is not medical care but a humanitarian necessity.

    In short, I’m perfectly capable of making that judgement because you are speaking quite directly to a field of my expertise. Now if Terri was kept alive with a respirator, you’d have a point.

  • Bill

    What you are forgetting are the complications that come from the long-term use of a feeding tube, and thus the issue of benefit vs. burden of the tube itself.

    Ms. Schiavo suffered from repeated hospitalizations, some of which were as a direct result of the feeding tube being mispositioned, causing her to choke/vomit/aspirate and develop pneumonia.

    The Schindler’s own book relates no less than 3 hospitalizations to cure a single instance of pneumonia in 2003.

    Ms, Schiavo could have elected to discontinue the feeding tube, based alone on the physical burdens the use of it imposed on her, as the “Directives” allow (“we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome.”)

    You could argue, of course, that you personally wished to suffer the significant consequences of the long-term use of a feeding tube (haven’t even discussed the life-threatening infections that can occur), but looking to the “Directives” it is clear you cannot impose such a requirement upon another member of your faith.

  • John Bambenek

    I’m sorry, but are you Catholic by any chance? Do you have any expertise in Catholic social teaching we should be aware of, because I do.

    You are completely misappropriating Catholic teaching on this point. The Pope himself, along with many bishops in the United States have made it unequivocably clear what the teaching means, and it doesn’t allow to remove a feeding tube simply because it’s too hard or because of medical negligence. Food and water is specifically considered medical care and can only be withdrawn when a patient is terminally ill and near death. Terri Schiavo was neither, nor was the feeding tube a burden that even comes close to outweighing the duty to provide food and water.

    Unless you have some expertise in Catholic moral/social/theological teaching, I suggest you don’t venture to cherry pick a couple of sentences to tell me what my faith says. Especially when I’m a graduate student in theology of that same faith.