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Schiavo and Spock
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James Lileks chimes in on the Terry Schiavo case with a reference to Star Trek.

Captain Christopher Pike of the Enterprise, shown here after the accident that occurred when something or other lost structural integrity and blasted him with so much radiation he no longer looked at all like the guy who played the character in the pilot. In retrospect, you would have thought that science would have advanced to the point where he could communicate through some neural interface, but never mind. I remember being horrified by him as a kid, because it seemed the perfect smothering claustrophobia nightmare: unable to exist outside a motorized iron lung, face scarred to immobility, unable to communicate beyond a pathetic beep. But it never occurred to us why he was still alive, why someone hadn’t slipped him the needle or put a pillow over his face in the dark of night. That didn’t seem like an option. No, you suffered, and you suffered like this.

Of course, we all know what happened, right? An elaborate plan was set in motion to steal the flagship of the fleet, proceed to a restricted location one could not visit without pain of execution (if I remember correctly, going to Talos IV was the sole capital crime left on the books – which meant that the death penalty had been eliminated, presumably as a sign of enlightenment) and return the crippled man to the land of the giant throbby-head-vein librarians so he could live out his life in his head, free from physical constraints.

Not an option we have today, of course. I mean, even if you could get a starship, good luck finding Talos IV. It’s not like there’s a map in the glove compartment.

But wouldn’t it have been easier for Spock just to come back and kill Pike for his own good? Wouldn’t it have been logical?

I’ll stop here before someone feels compelled to send an email comparing Terry Schiavo to Spock in that horrible episode in which his brain was gone – but even then, you’ll note, they beamed down and looked around for the damn thing. In short: err on the side of life is not a bad motto to keep in mind.

Of course this quality vs. sanctity of life debate is not a new is as old as humanity itself, and will continue to be debated in high school speech classes until the end of time.

But all in all, I think Lileks has it right. Even though Pike still had his mind. Even though Pike was able to communicate his will. Maybe Spock never asked him "Would you like me to twist your head off and end this all?", even though Pike could have answered, because Spock was still half-human and still loved the guy and didn't want to know the answer to that particular question.

The real point is, I think, that no one should have the right to determine your quality of life but you. This is why I think suicide laws are nuts. You should be able to decide to the greatest extent possible, what to do with your life. If you want to end it, go for it.

If you're incapacitated and unable to either physically kill yourself or indicate that you want to be euthanized, I don't think anyone else should be able to make that decision for you. You have the means to put down on paper what you want ahead of it. Otherwise, if you're unlucky enough to fall into a coma or vegetative state where you are unable to communicate your wishes, Lileks is right that the error should tend toward life, as a Constitutional guarantee. And it shouldn't be up to anyone else to determine the quality of that life.

I think one of the scariest aspects of the Schiavo case is the power of the husband to make decisions to supercede all others. This just points out another flaw in marriage law. In this case, cost is not an issue, because the parents are perfectly willing to pay for all care. If Schiavo's husband wants to remarry, he should be able to divorce if one spouse is incapacitated or unable to give consent, so he can remarry and live out his life. That doesn't make him a saint, but it should be within his power to do so. What he shouldn't be able to do is determine the quality of her life by himself. That's far too much power for a spouse to have. If Schiavo did not indicate in writing conditions under which she should be euthanized, the state needs to err on the side of least harm and most rights, and that means protecting her life. The equation would be complicated if the cost of her care was born by the state and was massive, but this is not the case.

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