Saturday, December 22, 2007

This one is from February 23, 2005.

Well, it looks like absent some other intervention, Michael Schiavo gets to finish off his wife once and for all.

Red State has examined this death sentence before, and some of its broader implications. There's one angle we haven't touched on, though, and that's what this entire mess says about our legal system: At some point, we decided that some lives weren't worth living, and that the law would sanction the end of those lives.

Think about that for a second. Forget any religious dimension. Forget abortion for now. Just think about that: Our law does not favor life. It's such a small thing. We believe that life is an inherent right of every human being (well, a lot of us don't believe that about humans who are attached to a placenta, but I leave that to the side). But we don't carry a predisposition toward life itself.

Obviously, I'm writing this because very soon, a husband will put his wife to death, despite the pleas of her biological family. But there's more than Michael Schiavo's greed desire to carry out his wife's execution wishes at issue. And it's certainly larger than the extraordinary moral flexibility the fellow has shown to date, although there's some of that here, too.

Law is not in itself just. Law is a creation of imperfect human beings. We are capable of rendering highly just laws -- laws that protect the weak, provide order, and lessen the worst tendencies of men, or at least their effects. We are also capable of laws of powerful injustice, including those that give succor to those who slaughter the innocent.

There are more important things than the law as written. There are higher (or if you prefer, greater) laws. And our legal system has, in some vital ways, enshrined values opposite those laws.

I use the Schiavo case as a convenient example, but that's really the tip of the iceberg. Abortion was once criminalized, not because we wanted to control women, but because we thought there was something terribly wrong with killing babies. Suicide was criminalized, not because we wanted to imprison corpses, but because we wanted to add the law's opprobium to such a terrible act -- wanted, in other words, to put one more emotional and psychological hurdle in the path of an act for which there is no chance to express regrets in this world. We understood, in other words, that a life ended is ended finally, and that there is nothing any human being or group of human beings can do to reverse that.

It is a terrible path to which we have committed ourselves. If life has no sanctuary in the law, it will eventually have sanctuary nowhere; for law is but an organic outgrowth of society's values and mores. If a man can kill a woman who is, as far as the courts of law are concerned, completely incapable of experiencing sentience, and for whom others have offered their lifelong service to care, then why would it stop there? Why should it stop there? The slippery slope is an old argument, true; but we are now well and truly on that slope, and can begin to see the bottom.

A law that is more concerned with the convenience of life than life itself; with eliminating distress rather than seeing living children; with whether systematized murder overwhelms a procedural mechanism for good governance is, in a word, depraved. It is no law at all.

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