Is Terry Schiavo a Person?

Is Terri Schiavo a person? — Not if the intellectuals have anything to say about it. In “Human Non-Person” (National Review Online, March 29, 2005), Wesley J. Smith examines the “personhood theories” propogated in the halls of academica by so-called “bioethicists” like Peter Singer of Princeton U., and Tom Beauchamp of Georgetown University. The same line of thinking that motivates some to call for Terry’s death leads these kind of professors to deny personhood to newborn infants as well as suffering victims of Alzheimer’s.

Even worse, patients who are thus “cognitively impaired” are, in the minds of such intellectuals, prime candidates for organ-harvesting or human research subjects. The kind of talk that was once the inspiration for medical horror films, or the fevered speculations of Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian, are now, according to Smith, no longer on the fringe in bioethics:

Personhood theory would reduce some of us into killable and harvestable people. [Bioethics professor John] Harris wrote explicitly that killing human non-persons would be fine because “Non-persons or potential persons cannot be wronged” by being killed “because death does not deprive them of something they can value. If they cannot wish to live, they cannot have that wish frustrated by being killed.”

And killing isn’t the half of it. Some of the same bioethicists who have been telling us how right and moral it is to dehydrate Terri Schiavo have also urged that people like Terri — that is, human non-persons — be harvested or otherwise used as mere instrumentalities. Bioethicist big-wig Tom Beauchamp of Georgetown University has suggested that “because many humans lack properties of personhood or are less than full persons, they . . . might be aggressively used as human research subjects or sources of organs.” . . .

If organ harvesting from the cognitively devastated were legal today — thank goodness, it isn’t — Michael Schiavo would be the one, no doubt sanctioned by Judge Greer, who could consent to doctors’ “stopping” Terri’s heart and harvesting her organs. . . . there is a direct line from the Terri Schiavo dehydration to the potential for this stunning human strip-mining scenario’s becoming a reality.”

Mr. Smith is an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. He is the author most recently of Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.

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