Friday, March 25, 2005
Great post by Professor Althouse. She discusses an interview by Ralph Nader where he points out in the Schiavo case Republicans are in the compassionate position, while Democrats have taken the harsh view. When it comes to occupational and workplace deaths, air pollution, medical malpractice etc., Republicans are (according to Nader) in the cruel position, and Democrats are the compassionate ones. Professor Althouse notes:
Nader asked Timbs and Norton a great question: Why aren't Republicans and Democrats consistently compassionate? Timbs and Norton filled the airspace with words but made no serious attempt to answer the question.
My question is, what is compassionate in these two scenarios? In the case of Schiavo is it compassionate to allow a person who (arguably) wanted to die in this circumstance to die? Or is it more compassionate to ignore that person's wishes to die in this circumstance in order to allow her parents to artificially keep her alive so that they feel better?

In the case of a work place deaths and occupational injuries is it more compassionate to do everything you can to prevent even one death or injury if it means hundreds more lose their jobs and go into poverty or worse? Or is it more compassionate to allow a few deaths or occupational injuries in order to allow businesses to thrive thus allowing more workers (and their families) to earn a living? Is it more compassionate to allow injured individuals in malpractice cases to recover millions in wind-fall judgments, the result of which is an increase in the cost of insurance that causes millions to be uninsured?

I think the answers to those questions are up to each person's individual value systems (and obviously based on how you frame the question).

But I think that regardless of the answer, you can be consistently committed to a system and process, and so long as that system is fair, in some sense at least, you are being compassionate. A worker may die, but if there is a system in place to financially compensate that workers family, while still obviously a tragedy, at least the financial loss can be restored to the family. (Can any system stop all workplace injuries and deaths? I doubt it.) In the Schiavo case someone is going to be unhappy with the outcome either way - but if the system that decides is fair, I think that is compassionate.

I think this feeds back in to Professor Althouse's question, I think one can only be consistently compassionate if they focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you start picking outcomes, you are going to run into a situation where regardless of your choice you can be considered to be on the non-compassionate side. The Schiavo case, I think, is one of those situations. Regardless of which end result you side with, the other side can say you are not being compassionate. You are either choosing against the parent's wishes, or you are choosing against Terri's right to die and her wishes (people can argue I am wrong about Terri's wishes - but there is no Schiavo case if there had not been an adjudication that she wanted to die, so I think I can assume that is correct for the purposes of this argument - which is not directly about the Schiavo case).

It is a no-win situation if you are trying to be outcome-compassionate. But if you are process "compassionate," then I think you can be consistently compassionate. Regardless, it is indeed a very good question (even if my answer was not).
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I am an attorney in Chicago. Politically speaking, I am an indepedent that tends to lean conservative on fiscal issues and progressive on social issues. I try to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. Please email or post any comments, and especially criticisms. If something I say is wrong, or you disagree - let me know about it!



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