Recently, National Review interviewed Princeton professor of law Robert George, who is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. He spoke to issues of justified killing and particularly to the issue of denying Terri Schiavo food and water. Here are some of his thoughts:
"It is pointless to ask whether Terri Schiavo had somehow formed a conditional intention to have herself starved to death if eventually she found herself in a brain-damaged condition. What's really going on here — and I don't think we can afford to kid ourselves about this — is that Terri's husband has decided that hers is a life not worth having. In his opinion, her continued existence is nothing but a burden — a burden to herself, to him, to society. He has presumed to decide that his wife is better off dead.
"Even if we were to credit Michael Schiavo's account of his conversation with Terri before her injury — which I am not inclined to do — it is a mistake to assume that people can make decisions in advance about whether to have themselves starved to death if they eventually find themselves disabled. That's why living wills have proven to be so often unreliable. One does not know how one will actually feel, or how one will feel about one's life and the prospect of death, or whether one will retain a desire to live despite a mental or physical disability, when one is not actually in that condition and when one is envisaging it from the perspective of more or less robust health.
"Consider the case of a beautiful young woman — an actress or fashion model perhaps — who is severely burned in a fire. Prior to actually finding herself in such a condition, she might have supposed — and even said, if the subject had come up in a conversation — that she would rather be dead than live with her face grotesquely disfigured. But no one would be surprised if in the actual event she did not try to kill herself by starvation or some other means, and did not want to die.
"In any event, it is clear that the only reason for Michael Schiavo's decision is that he considers Terri's quality of life to be so poor that he wants her to be dead. He claims that she would want that too, which I don't grant, but even if he's right about that, we should treat her like anyone else who wants to commit suicide. We rescue, we care. We affirm the inherent value of the life of every human being. Our governing principle should be always to care, never to kill."
In responding to the criticisms of intervention by the government, George said:
"The other thing that Congress is being accused of is interfering in a family decision. Now look: Terri Schiavo has been abandoned by her husband. Michael Schiavo took a vow to be faithful to Terri "in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, 'til death do us part." But he has not been faithful; he has not forsaken all others. He has set himself up in a marriage in all-but-name with someone else, a woman with whom he already has two children. He has disrespected Terri and, indeed, forsaken her. Now he is seeking to bring about her death by starvation. Notice something wrong with this picture? Terri's parents and siblings, by contrast, have never abandoned her. They are prepared to shoulder all the burdens, including the financial burdens, of caring for her. They want to provide the therapy that many medical people who have observed Terri, whether at the bedside or by videotape, believe can help her. No one expects a full recovery, but it may be possible for her to make genuine progress. That possibility will be foreclosed, however, if she is killed by deliberate starvation before it can begin."