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A cold dose of reality

When I was in college, I took a single class in Philosphy (Introduction to Ethics) that really left a mark on me. I had a truly amazing professor, who had the remarkable ability to espouse nearly any ethical position without actually endorsing it. He would set up wonderfully complex ethical dilemmas, and then counter every single position we'd take. He was challenging, he was interesting, he was entertaining, and he made us think.

One of the things I took from his class was the idea that the difference between sins/lies of omission and of commission is illusory. It is the consequences of such acts that matter in the long run, not whether you acted or simply allowed events to unfold. If you have the ability to prevent a wrong and choose not to, then you have become a party to that wrongdoing.

This ethic is found in the U.S. Military. Cadets at the service academies are required to live by an Honor Code that not only says they will not cheat, steal, or act dishonorably, they will not tolerate others doing so and will act to prevent such deeds. It's carried out beyond the academies, where simply standing by while others violate laws or regulations is not an option -- failing to stop wrongs is a serious offense.

This is an ethic that seems to be lost on a large portion of the Left. I recall many instances of opponents of the war in Iraq saying we shouldn't have toppled Saddam because "our hands weren't clean" -- we had supported him in the past, supplying him with weapons (a very small percentage, around 1%, but some nonetheless) and the like. The argument seems to be "it's good that he was deposed, but the U.S. shouldn't have been the one to do it."

This attitude, to me, reveals an egocentrism of the left. They are more concerned with the burdens of their own conscience than the general welfare of the world. It's OK that the Iraqis continue to suffer under Saddam and the consequences of his reign as long as they don't have to sully their hands in taking action.

The classic argument I have cited recently was "when is it acceptable to kill innocents?" The Left draws an absolute line on the ground -- never. It is NEVER acceptable to kill innocents, regardless of the consequences.

The counterargument I have come up with is simple, and derived from one of the now-debunked myths surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Suppose you are a United States Air Force pilot, and you are in a fighter trailing a hijacked jetliner. The plane is heading towards Washington, D.C. and you have every belief that the hijackers intend to crash it into the White House or Capitol Building, killing all aboard the plane and countless more on the ground. It's currently over vacant land. Do you shoot down the airliner, killing all the passengers on board?

The Left answer is "no." The passengers are innocent hostages, and we must not kill the innocent, regardless of the circumstances. Try to force the plane to divert, to land safely, but under no circumstances should the plane be shot down.

I'm a pragmatist. I'd look at both possibilities and outcomes. If I shoot, all the people on the plane will die. If I don't shoot, the plane will crash into its target and all the people will die, along with who knows how many more on the ground. A third possibility is that the passengers will revolt and re-take the plane, as nearly happened with Flight 93.

With that possibility, I think I would wait as long as possible for signs that it had happened, but ultimately I would fire. I'd have to live with the guilt of having killed all those people, but I'd know that I had saved many more on the ground.

A further benefit of this would be to discourage future hijackings. Once it is shown that the tactic will not work, most terrorists will start looking at other tactics. Dying for your cause while striking a great blow against the enemy is one thing; dying for your cause while achieving absolutely nothing is just stupid.

In the Terri Schiavo case (which I NOT taking sides on -- I intend to maintain my personal boycott of the topic), the pragmatic approach for the "remove the tube" side would be to say that removing the tube would not be acceptable. If the decision is that her body be allowed to cease functioning, then simply allowing her to expire by neglect is needlessly cruel. A quick, painless passing would be better than simply standing by while starvation and dehydration take their toll. A large dose of a sedative (much like the way we execute prisoners) would be more ethical -- even if it means that someone has to live with the burden of being the "executioner" of a woman who certainly deserved better than her fate. And if that smacks of euthenasia, that's because that's what it is -- the only difference is in the level of compassion being shown and having the courage of your convictions.

The drawback of the pragmatist's approach is having to live with the burden of your actions. I'm not certain how well I could handle the responsibility of the above actions, but I'm not going to put that above the greater good.

Sometimes doing the right thing requires sacrifices. And some sacrifices are harder to make than others. To some, the sacrifice of one's personal self-image is too great to make.

Sometimes I envy them. But mostly, I just find them contemptible.



Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A cold dose of reality:

» Chasing the Wind linked with Euthanasia versus Neglect

» La Shawn Barber's Corner linked with Life

Comments (33)

Interesting take, in our co... (Below threshold)

Interesting take, in our courseload, we're required to take a course in engineering ethics, which had us go over a couple of codes of ethics of different professional organizations (the first thing we did was to define a professional, lol), such as SNAME (Society of Naval Arcitects and Marine Engineers, ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers). the entire class we debated case studies, and one of the more telling ones was the designer of the World Trade Centers.

We watched this video showing the designer's concerns regarding the buildings, the impact effects they could do, the building codes adjusted just to get the thing built, things like that, and the resulting discussion was eye-opening. Such as, the fire retardants used on the structural members were blown completely off when the planes hit, because only half of what should have been there was there. The biggest plane that was around when they designed the building was something like 3/4ths the size of the planes that hit the building. They actually designed it to take the impact of the plane very well (it rocked back and forth only a couple of times, not a bad damping factor), but they couldn't model the resulting fire initiated by the jet fuel that caused the huge raging office fire.

It was a sobering discussion... (the bulk of the information you've already seen probably at the popular mechanics article).

In the Terri Schiavo cas... (Below threshold)

In the Terri Schiavo case (which I NOT taking sides on -- I intend to maintain my personal boycott of the topic)...

I find your editorial stamina impressive though, when I read between the lines, I sense a position. Considering my perceived interpretation, one might argue that the "pragmatist" is alternately an "idealist".

Interesting you chose the f... (Below threshold)

Interesting you chose the fighter pilot dilemma.

I'm former Air Force. I flew with the 48th FIS out of Langley AFB, Va and my job had been to chase Russian Bear bombers off coast from time to time.

Had 9/11 happened a few short years earlier I quite likely could have been faced with that very same decision. I thank the gods I never had to make that choice.

And yes, I know which one would have had to be made and it would have sucked.

So, how many of the Left <b... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

So, how many of the Left opposed intervening in Bosnia? In Kosovo? In Haiti?

Or, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in "True Lies," did these people believe that, in those cases, "Yes, but they were all bad"?

The Left desires the benefits of intervention, while retaining the moral "rectitude" of finger-wagging, carping, and criticizing. Think of it as "Immaculate Intervention."

For someone who is boycotti... (Below threshold)

For someone who is boycotting the topic, you sure bring it up a lot.

What purpose is there in discussing a lethal dose of a sedative if it is not an option? And, why bring up the pragmatic's approach, as you called it, if you are unable or unwilling to do it yourself?

Oh, and while they give prisoners a large enough does of Pentothal to be lethal, it's the potassium and pavulon that kills them. Ironically, it's potassium, or lack of it, that caused Schiavo to arrest in the first place.

The Israeli approach to kid... (Below threshold)

The Israeli approach to kidnapping is interesting in this context. The approach was quite simple -- NEVER, EVER negotiate, bargain, or even communicate with kidnappers. Just write off the victims and go ERASE the kidnappers. It was a horrible approach from the point of view of the victims, but the result was that kidnapping didn't work, and so there were no more kidnappings.

The point of view that the left simply will not examine is that of the person who is not a victim but who must make the decision to act or not to act, and what action to take if action is to be taken. The left sees only the victims. It is the viewpoint of a child who screams at the pain of lancing a boil but who will not consider the pain and danger of the boil itself.

Jay Tea, I admire your 'res... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, I admire your 'restraint' when it comes to 'taking sides' in the Schiavo case. More people should follow your example.

"[...] allowing her to expire by neglect is needlessly cruel. [...] A large dose of a sedative (much like the way we execute prisoners) would be more ethical."

I agree that starvation and dehydration are a cruel way of having someone die, but someone in PVS is not aware of this. Their sense of hunger and thirst are absent, they don't "feel" they are "starving," nor are they aware of it. Yes, it seems cruel to us, but it isn't to them.

I think there is a big (ethical/moral) difference between active (a large dose of sedative) and passive (discontinue food and water or medication) euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is more ethical, I believe, than active.

Daan: I realize that you'r... (Below threshold)

Daan: I realize that you're reciting information you've read somewhere, but truly it is all speculative as to what certain people feel and don't feel and experience and do not, of and among those with impaired brain function.

And, as with Terry Schiavo and others, even to what extent there is impairment is not an agreed medical opinion, and in her case, there's the attempt to project that she will 'feel nothing' and experience no suffering while those making those speculations are also not reporting with accuracy what Terri Schiavo's brain function actually is...they're merely reciting old medical information that has also been debated and is debatable, from what I've read, if proven at all based upon the fact that there has been no CTSCAN of her head what with Michael Schiavo preventing that from being done.

So, it's a nice bit of fiction that Terri Schiavo "won't experience any pain/suffering" under current circumstances but those who attend to her state otherwise, that she appears to suffer when the feeding tube and water are withheld.

I imagine it's a secure belief, however, to just repeat that she's not suffering, she's not suffering...otherwise, the counter perspective to that would be too great for most sentient beings. At least it would render certain willing participants responsible for inducing terrible suffering upon someone else, not to mention taking her life.

Joser: I'm surprised you h... (Below threshold)

Joser: I'm surprised you have energy enough to even type at a keyboard, what with your world being quite so wan, so miserable, so awful-by-America-made.

".. even if it means that s... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

".. even if it means that someone has to live with the burden of being the "executioner" of a woman who certainly deserved better than her fate."

Someone has to live with that burden now. Whoever pulled the tube has executed her, slowly.

RE: Daan's post (March 22, ... (Below threshold)

RE: Daan's post (March 22, 2005 12:17 PM)
I think there is a big (ethical/moral) difference between active (a large dose of sedative) and passive (discontinue food and water or medication) euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is more ethical, I believe, than active.

Without straying too far into particulars and to keep this more philosophic, I consider that position a bit cowardly though I appreciate your honorable intent. The end is the same but some would hide behind the passive means (as opposed to active ones) to conceal that end... not you necessarily but others as general precept. In a way one gets to have one's cake and eat it too. The idea is to reach a certain point without appearing callous because of one's concern of being perceived a particular way. It's human nature to be liked and, when performing an unsavory act, one wants to wiggle out of the possibly ethically dubious (at least to conflicted peers).

Granted, I have presented this opinion without regard to the sensation of pain in this ethical calculus. If you are correct in the manifestation of pain as described, then starvation (actually dehydration) would seem to be the most ethical and passivity entirely justifiable.

What I have difficulty accepting are those fence-straddlers who talk a good talk but won't walk the walk. When speaking for others (as in the imposition of policy), they would support a debatable position without actually performing the act themselves. Some might be so insincere that they take one position one day and then, as public opinion sways, excoriate that which they just "believed" and adopt the contemporaneously popular. That is, to borrow Jay Tea's terminology, contemptible particularly given the subject matter and its seriousness.

Jay, you make some good poi... (Below threshold)

Jay, you make some good points, and I think you devalue them by sweepingly attributing various attitudes to the "left" and "right". There is various rationale for why one might believe we should not have toppled Hussein. Bush 41 and his Republican administration acted on one of them. That's the right. At his peak, Bush 43 had something like a 90% approval rating. That includes the left. Now (or recently, if I'm not up on the latest numbers), it's below 50%. That includes the right.

And I challenge your assertion that "the left" would not shoot down a plane heading towards the White House. On what do you base this? I would push the button myself, if necessary. I also would allow hostages to die rather than pay a ransom that would embolden future attempts. There are many instances when "the left" would allow innocents to die. All of these involve protecting a future "greater good".

Not everything is partisan.

Julie, I've brought up the ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Julie, I've brought up the Schiavo case twice -- exactly twice -- and both times I averred any opinion on the matter myself, simply used it as a jumping-off point. Look carefully at the author's credit of each posting; Kevin and Paul certainly do not share my opinions on the matter.

And I challenge you (and, to a lesser extent, Sparkle) to tell me my opinions on the matter. Because every single time I've tried to make sense of it, I get caught up in a miasma of conflicting interests and feelings and nausea over the whole situation that I just have to walk away from it. Ethically, it's a whole knotted ball of gray yarn, and I don't have the stomach to try to untangle it.

And, Julie, I wasn't discussing the Schiavo case, but the implications of it. In that context, the "sedative" was a future potential option, and I didn't feel like digging into the minutiae of death by lethal injection -- I presumed most readers would simply read my intention without my having to spend extra time going into the finer details. It appears that most everyone else did.


Jay, I've corrected my trac... (Below threshold)

Jay, I've corrected my trackback at "Chasing the Wind." Thanks for the correction. :)

"Passive euthanasia is mor... (Below threshold)

"Passive euthanasia is more ethical, I believe, than active."


The only thing better about passive euthanasia is that it's easier to deny responsibility for it. So not only is it euthanasia, it's *dishonest* euthanasia.

So, Joser, answer the quest... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

So, Joser, answer the question:

Did you oppose the imperialistic pretensions of Clinton over Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti? After all, it's not as though Milosevic was about to attack the US?

Did you pat Clinton on the back, or were you trying to help those screwed by him here at home?

Lurking,One explanat... (Below threshold)

One explanation that I read and can't attribute - but it is brilliant. The left can't get behind any killing of innocents that can be construed as in the US best interests. In a situation like Kosovo, where we gain nothing they think we should get involoved. Otherwise it is selfish.

Three times. You brought it... (Below threshold)

Three times. You brought it up three times, jay.

You wrote you were boycotting the topic. How can you boycott a topic by discussing the implications of it? And how can you not be discussing the case if you are discussing its implications? And how can a "'sedative' [be] a future potential option” if, as you admit, you're not willing to administer the hot shot?

I found the K+ and the cause of Schiavo's brain injury interestingly ironic. But, I'm not the one who brought up lethal injection. I would hardly characterize the actual method of death as a detail. As they say, the devil is in the details. You want a clean, easy, foolproof, guilt free method that you don't have to employ. Good luck. And, if everyone else understood, though I would submit you really mean agree, with what you wrote, as how it may reflect on me, who cares?

Frankly, I don't care what your opinion is. I just think it's funny that you keep bringing up that you aren't bringing it up. However, you sort of gave yourself away: Look carefully at the author's credit of each posting; Kevin and Paul certainly do not share my opinions on the matter.

"And I challenge your asser... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

"And I challenge your assertion that "the left" would not shoot down a plane heading towards the White House. "

LOL I would take that challenge, because the left most certanily would not support it, they would be railing at Bush for killing innocent people, just like they do in any other action he has taken. Although they might actually support it, if a democrat was in the white house.

Just Me wrote:I w... (Below threshold)

Just Me wrote:
I would take that challenge, because the left most certanily would not support it

OK, great. So let's see your supporting evidence that "the left" would not support this. As a member of "the left", I flatly state that I do support it.

You do realize, that "taking a challenge" means responding to it, and not simply repeating the statement that is being challenged.

"The Left answer is "no." T... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

"The Left answer is "no." The passengers are innocent hostages, and we must not kill the innocent, regardless of the circumstances. Try to force the plane to divert, to land safely, but under no circumstances should the plane be shot down."

I don't really buy that. I've heard a lot of moonbats whining about the 9/11 planes not being shot down -- to the point that some think that Bush "let" them hit their targets. Keep in mind, the left as of late seems to have the "screw everyone else, so long as I'm OK" line of reasoning. No doubt they'd write the plane passengers off as eeevil capitalists or some such drivel.

Joser at March 22, 2005 04:... (Below threshold)

Joser at March 22, 2005 04:07 PM

I hear that we have a lot of dead babies of poor families who never got a chance to live because of him.

Actually, there are millions of dead babies who never got a chance to live because people like you treat abortion as a form of birth control and sexual responsiblity as a joke.

There are, God only knows how many, mothers and infants suffering from unnecessary and life threatening medical problems because people like you laugh at rampant promiscuity and illegitimacy. As a result, we have stds gone rampant, high risk births, and kids growing up without fathers. So, you can take Clinton's cigar and shove it up you're you know what.

Daan, I'll repeat the quest... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Daan, I'll repeat the question: you said that " Passive euthanasia is more ethical, I believe, than active." Why?

It's certainly not better for the person being euthanized. You advocate a slow, lingering, natural death over a quick, painless death. It's only better for the conscience of the person doing the euthanizing, and that's the whole crux of my piece -- that to put your own emotional comfort above the lives and well-being of others is, ultimately, selfish.


Okay Brian you caught me, I... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Okay Brian you caught me, I admit I was being facetious, although the part about the left hating anything Bush does, is probably pretty good evidence that had the planes been shot down, the left would have been up in arms over it, so just given the current and past behavior of those on the Left regarding anything Bush does, I would say it is more likely than not, the left would not support shooting down a plane of innocents to protect more innocents unless there was a democrat in the white house.

Yes, I caught you once agai... (Below threshold)

Yes, I caught you once again ignoring the fact that for a long time post-9/11 Bush had a bipartisan and high approval rating. And have you heard of anyone stating that they would not have supported Bush shooting down the planes? Quite the opposite, I suspect.

But, as you are wont to do, just keep ignoring the facts so you can build a little fantasy world that supports what you want to be the truth.

No, I'm saying you're a hyp... (Below threshold)

No, I'm saying you're a hypocrite for even trying to make some sort of stupid analogy between the two. And this stupid Texas story that you and your ilk are trying to make something out of has already been debunked. I'll also throw in that if you think there is a comparison to be made, obtain the medical records of the patients you say are being murdered in Texas and we'll go over them. Until then, you are talking out of your ass, as always.

And you're the only one who associated promiscuity, abortion, and stds with lower income. Why doesn't that surprise me? Does your “fiance” know that you think that about her? I hope she comes to her senses and dumps your sorry ass.

I told you before, she will... (Below threshold)

I told you before, she will not starve but like you said, she will be heavily sedated (mostly for our purpose, not hers since she won't feel it) therefore she will not suffer.

I don't know how many times I have to say that to get through to the world that it's not like you think or what they say but just in case there are any feelings, the sedation will make sure she'll never feel something she will never feel in the first place.


I find that the problem lie... (Below threshold)

I find that the problem lies in the parents; they are comtemptable. It's like they can't have a life without her in it even though she has no clue she's in it. After 20 years, what else are they going to do? They should make up time with their family and with each other; put their daughter's body to peace and give themselves a break. Right now, they have no one but each other and for 20 years, that part of "them" has been shoved in a corner; they have wasted those years - it is time for the parents to start something with each other for all the years they missed.


Her parents are adults, Cin... (Below threshold)

Her parents are adults, Cindy. They can decide just how they prefer to waste their lives. How anyone can find the effort to find love and dedication contemptable is amazing to me.

If you want to talk about a wasted life... if Terri can't feel and doesn't suffer then staying alive doesn't hurt her in the least. Perhaps her *husband* should stop wasting his life, let her parents assume guardianship, and go off and live with his new family? If Terri was being made to *suffer* then he might be a noble person. He's not. Since he's saving her from no suffering whatsoever, by your account, why not just let her parents care for her?

Synova: It's all about the ... (Below threshold)

Synova: It's all about the bennies...

Cindy: Oh yes, Oh those evil parents. God forbid they want to take care of their own flesh and blood. Damn them to hell and an eternity of torture and eternal pain and suffering for their love of their daughter.

In all honesty, If I was the parents I would be doing EXACTLY what they are doing right now. I would be fighting for my childs life. How can a parent, ANY parent who is a rational and compasionate human being allow their child to starve to death. Lets use a little common sense here.

I really like this piece Jay. It shows how hypocritical the Left can be at times... We can't harm innocents, EVER... But we can remove the feeding tube of this innocent woman and condemn her to death by starvation and dehydration. She won't feel it anyway, according to the docters atleast.

Well, I'm sorry I haven't b... (Below threshold)

Well, I'm sorry I haven't been able to reply to the question sooner, Jay Tea. I'm not at my computer and on Wizbang 24 hours a day.

I'll start of by saying I absolutely have no ready-made answer for you. This is a tricky, complicated issue, and there are no easy answers, I'm afraid.

I didn't say that passive euthanasia is better than active euthanasia - neither is 'better' than the other. However, passive euthanasia isn't worse than active euthanasia either. You say "lingering, slow and natural," why is that bad? It's not more painful, because in either case the patient is sedated and unaware of what's happening. I would agree with you if someone would just stop medicating/feeding a patient while he or she is fully conscious. Thát would be cruel.

I did say that passive euthanasia is more ethical than active euthanasia (for me, anyway). While I am not a practicing catholic (I consider myself agnostic), I think I feel this way because of my catholic 'roots.' Active euthanasia is deliberately killing a person, while passive euthanasia is 'allowing' someone to die - someone whom you (and others too, of course) think would be 'better off.' Needlessly stretching a life that is completely devoid of meaning and 'quality,' I consider that to be cruel. Needlessly stretching a life because you can't part from them, thát's putting your own emotional comfort above other people's lives and well-being.

I can see why people call passive euthanasia cowardly or selfish, but the same can be said of active euthanasia. I just prefer not to speak in those terms when it comes to such a sensitive matter in which no one - NO ONE - can be a 'winner.' I think it's unsavoury to insult people who ultimately want to do what they think is the right thing. And what's the right thing? You can only answer that question in a concrete situation, when you're involved in it yourself, when it concerns you and/or your loved ones, you get the point. There is no one right answer.

I like it and I think it's ... (Below threshold)

I like it and I think it's a good take. I have a Living Will and I also have a DNR (do not resuscitate) for this very reason but if somehow I got stuck in that situation, I'd prefer a needle, put me out of my misery in seconds flat than to hurt people because the only choice is by starvation. Terri will be given medication, just in case, but not all cases have gone that way. It's a shame really - especially when a woman has to take herself out of a hospital, be brought to a motel and then starves herself to death and she's not even braindead. Now that's horrendous. Terri won't feel it but they will drug her anyway - something they are not telling the world so they can get their own way.


Hey cindy! Your opinions on... (Below threshold)

Hey cindy! Your opinions on the Schiavo case are in direct contradiction with the Pope's. How are you going to reconcile that? You've gone on and on how much you hold him in regard and that he is holy. Yet, you blatantly disregard his teachings on this issue. You're going to hell! You're going to hell! Starting to feel a bit warm?






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