Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Terri Schiavo's blog

Yeah.

20 comments:

david said...

She keeps a livejournal, as well.

http://www.livejournal.com/users/terri_is_risen/

Julian Elson said...

Maybe I'm being humorless and oversensitive here, but if I were Michael Schiavo or one of the Schindlers, I think this thing might really bug me. I don't know. Maybe not. It's offensive-esque, or something.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I know what you mean, Julian. The thing about it (dark humor aside) is that it makes the important factual point that Terri is gone --that nothing is left of her but a twitching corpse -- in a really forceful way.

Max Goss said...

Scummy, Neil. I thought you had some sense of decency.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Max, if I'm ever in Terri's position, please don't criticize the person who sets up "Neil Sinhababu's blog" a decade after my mind leaves my brain.

Max Goss said...

Neil, Terri isn't the only one whose feelings are involved. I wouldn't have thought an ethicist would overlook something so basic.

david said...

I think some moral rules actually cease to be binding (in a given case) once they've been broken enough (in the given case).

"Do not hurt other people" is a rule which is binding no matter how many times it's been broken. Even if someone has been kicked in the ribs a thousand times, it's still wrong to kick him for the 1001th time.

"Respect the decency and privacy of those involved in a tragic situation," however, is a rule which (I think) is no longer applicable once it's been violated enough.

So, I think that if the Schiavo situation had been dealt with by Schiavo's family members in a private, respectful way, then it would have been wrong to make jokes at their expense.

But the Schiavo affair has been transformed, by the media and by the federal government, into a kind of weird reality TV show, played out on multiple 24 hour "news" channels simultaneously. In this kind of environment, I think that one is no longer obligated to respect the Schiavo family's decency and privacy.

I could be wrong about this, but that's how it strikes me now.

Neil Sinhababu said...

As a utilitarian, I can understand David's position. Sometimes the disutility created by future offenses decreases with each further offense. I'm pretty sure that my linking to Terri's blog generates more amusement than horror (though that may be the result of my having a fairly liberal readership). So I don't regret it.

Max, if you have the energy to work yourself up into a third comment-generating level of pseudo-outrage, feel free to post below.

Mary said...

I think when you become a husband and/or parent, you will understand why horror trumps amusement in this case. Yes, there were excesses all around. The husband and parents get a pass on those; love and grief make people do strange and unreasonable things. The politicians do not, particularly considering all the inconsistencies in their so-called "culture of life."

Max Goss said...

"Pseudo-outrage." Now you question my sincerity. Nice.

You think the amusement of some justifies compounding the grief of others. Don't you think this puts pressure on your utilitarianism? Perhaps you're right those of us who have literally wept for Terri Schiavo are deeply confused and misguided, but I don't see how your willingness to hurt others for a few chuckles can be viewed as anything short of cruel. You don't have an ethical theory; you have an excuse for vice.

Neil Sinhababu said...

You were either insincere or very hasty in your comments above; my guess is a mix of both. You know (you get my position right in your last comment with the "deeply confused and misguided") that I think Terri left us long ago. I'd say that nothing bad happened to Terri this week, only one a decade back when she suffered cardiac arrest from bulimia and lost huge chunks of her brain. You know what my ethical views are. You saw my comment about how the blog drives home an essential factual feature of the situation. And yet you say that you wouldn't have expected an ethicist to "overlook something so basic". If you actually considered my stock of mental states, you'd not only see that this was expectable, but that my reasons for doing it reach pretty far down, and that I'm exactly the ethicist to do this. I don't see how, with any reflection, you could sincerely think otherwise.

If your sadness this past week was in any significant way increased by my link, I do apologize for that. I didn't imagine it would have a big effect of that kind, but I can be wrong about things like that.

david said...

It's hard for me to imagine someone weeping for Terri who is not either (a) personally acquainted with Terri or her family, or (b) emotionally unstable.

I realize that emotions are unpredictable and often inexplicable; I'm not trying to make Max feel foolish for having wept about Schiavo's death. But I think it's worth pointing out that such a strong response to her situation is inappropriate. There are much bigger, much more weep-worthy things going on (e.g. hundreds of thousands of people starving in Sudan, etc.).

Blar said...

David, Terri's situation is not the most important, most tragic thing happening in the world, but that doesn't mean that it's not worth weeping over. Normal people even weep for fictional characters who have fairly trivial problems, in the grand scheme of things. Their reactions aren't completely inexplicable, either. The story that they hear or see creates an emotional connection through its relationship to their experience, their goals, or their values, and if the story is vivid enough this can lead to a strong emotional reaction. Situations on the individual, personal level are often more emotionally powerful than bigger situations, with huge numbers of deaths and sufferers, because they provide the vividness, the detail, and the possibility of empathy. You could also try to explain the power of personal stories based on how our emotions evolved to deal with life in little communities, etc. Perhaps the wise thing to do is to try to redirect your emotions from individual cases into activity that addresses broader problems, but that doesn't mean that the original emotions were inappropriate.

So it's perfectly natural for someone who views Terri's case as a tragedy to weep over it (though there's also nothing strange about people who hold that view and do not weep). It's also unsurprising for someone who holds Neil's views about morality and the facts of the case to find "Terri Schiavo's blog" amusing and, in a way, edifying. And I suppose that it's also nothing new for people on opposite sides of an issue to find the behavior of the other side to be perplexing and unjustified. So the point, I guess, is either that I don't get surprised enough or that it's this last unsurprising fact, the misunderstanding and accusations, that we can do something about.

Max Goss said...

Neil: Perhaps my comments call for clarification, as you seem to misunderstand me. You seem to think that what surprised me was your approval of the site you link, since I could easily determine that such approval would flow from your ethical theory, your assessment of the facts of the case, and your opinion that the site effectively communicates your position regarding Terri's mental condition. Actually, what surprised me -- what I thought so basic that no one could miss it, not least someone who has devoted his life to reflecting on ethical matters -- was that your initial response to me ignored the negative feelings of everyone but Terri Schiavo. There are many, many people who, right or wrong, had a great deal of emotional investment in Terri's situation; even granting that Terri herself had no capacity for embarrassment or other suffering last week, my main point was and is that it was callous of you not to consider the feelings of such people.

I know I’ve already made this point, but I wanted to put it in context so that we understand each other – your inference that I was insincere was based on a misunderstanding of what I was trying to say, which was probably due to my own lack of clarity. At any rate, I appreciate your expression of regret.

Incidentally, don’t you think there is a perfectly good utilitarian justification for the social rule prohibiting the ridicule of the dying and recently dead? I mean, far be it from me to suggest that you would be so old-fashioned and conventional as to refrain from doing something simply because it is frowned upon by society, but we could just say the following: people are generally happier when this rule is observed than when it isn't. And though there might be occasional exceptions, it is so difficult to assess whether exceptions might be allowable in a particular case that we should always or almost always act in accordance with it. Will this work, or is there something I am missing? (Or are you an act-utilitarian?)

Neil Sinhababu said...

I'm an act-utilitarian (in that I think rules aren't the currency of morality). So I'm not going to follow a rule when I believe that following it won't maximize utility. But that doesn't get me totally out of the woods; even act-utilitarians need heuristics, and "don't speak ill of the dying" is a fairly plausible one.

Still, if I think that the wounds to the feelings of the living will be exceeded by the amusement I generate by posting a link like this, that'll disable my moral compunction. (I may still not do it for nonmoral reasons -- like everyone else, there's lots of nonmoral reasons in play for me.) This is also a really strange case of somebody "dying" -- so there's no guarantee that the usual rules will apply.

I actually ran a quick hedonic calculus when I posted. "Gosh, some people will feel intense displeasure at seeing this site. But others will find it wildly funny. Probably more pleasure than displeasure, given the reactions of people around here whom I've shown the site. So let's post it." In my own utilitarian way, I considered feelings of people like you -- I put them into the calculus. Maybe this shows that utilitarian moral consideration falls short of what we intuitively owe people, or maybe I didn't weigh things properly. (Also motivating me was the desire to make the factual point about Terri being gone in a unique and forceful way.)

Rousseau said...

Another justification, and one I think Neil shares, is related to an entry I wrote up a while ago. http://rousseau.blogspot.com/2005/02/artificial-desires.html

Neil may believe the utility you (or other agonistes) derive from "respecting Terri" is (relatively) "fake" and the degree to which he can change that source of utility/disutility and make it into something more constructive, offsets your temporary loss.

This is something I certainly believe as a factual matter (that mocking the sacred leads to dealing with it in less absolute and impractical ways). And I think if Neil also believe it as a descriptive matter, he is radical enough to agree with it normatively as well.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I don't like talking about "fake utility" because the intrinsic goodness of pleasure doesn't depend on whether it arises from true or false belief. It's still utility and it still goes into the calculus. But the larger point here is good -- it'd be great if people gave up beliefs that caused them anguish but helped no one.

Jackaroe said...

I am not in a firm standing with any classical ethic theories, but too agree with neil. It was her time, the extrodinary means used to keep her alive didn't benefit anyone, more so because she wanted to die. She had stated to her husband that she did not want to be kept alive under those conditions, so the only theorist who can hoot and holler are the natural law guys, because it interupts God's divine plan. As far as I am concerned God's divine plan is that at some point in time everyone has to die, not to be artifically kept alive against their will.

Anonymous said...

The doctors that delivered the autopsy report to the press were very certain in their answers. They were not evasive or political...they simply stated the facts, as had the doctors caring for poor Miss Shivo prior to her death.

The 'right-to-lifers', sorry 'culture-of-lifers' would have that poor woman still today strapped to a machine until the political climate was such that her story was no longer relavent and her parents could spend the rest of her days caring for her body.

If a team of heart surgeons tell me I need surgury or I will die then I will take the advise of those trained professionals and go under the knife. It is their job and their life pursuit. I am sorry that Terry had to die, but truthfully...she was already dead as confirmed by the doctors that performed the autopsy. OK...not technically dead, but beyond the help of modern science...a fact.

I feel for her former husband and I also feel for her parents, but the best they can do for her now is let her rest in peace and cherish the memories they have from when she was 'alive'. I feel the coursta and the medical professional all acted appropriately and that the outcome was inevitable.

However...the uneducated (OK...medically uneducated) politicians that weighed in on this situation in an attempt to stop the inevitable outcome should be held accountable for the money spent in that pursuit. Number one on the list...George Bush, how much did it cost to bring back congress early to change the laws to suit their agenda? If Terry could speak...would she be pro-life, sorry again, pro-culture-of-life or would she ask that we let her die with dignity. Well we will never know, but she is at peace now.

Keep politics out of family affairs and let the professional do their job...it's that simple. Thankyou for taking the time to read my thoughts.

Clayton said...

Apparently the outrage (pseudo or not) continues...