Monday, March 02, 2009

The Left & the Right

Believe it or not, substantive discussions can be had through Facebook. Currently, I am engaged in one, prompted by a New York Times article I posted about Debbie Purdy, a woman who is challenging the British courts over her right to die and her husband's right to assist her. The exchange is between a Facebook friend (FBF) and me, and what I find interesting is how we now come from such disparate points of view even though we both grew up in Manila, went to the same Jesuit boys school, high school and university.

Our divergence however is not surprising, as we are products of vastly different histories and choices. FBF hails from a wealthy and prominent family, got his MBA from an Ivy League school, is an international financial services executive, married with children and resides in Greenwich, CT. I come from an aspirational middle class family; got my Masters in Nonprofit Management and am working on my Ph.D. in Policy from a small university in New York; have worked as a stockroom boy, retail salesperson, manager, small business comptroller, accountant, nonprofit worker, consultant, part-time bookkeeper and researcher while putting myself through grad school; and live with my partner of more than ten years in Washington, DC.

I began the thread by asking: Should government prevent us from deciding when it is time to die?

FBF at 9:12pm February 28
Where does it say we are competent to determine when it is our time to die?

EdL at 4:05am March 1
Why does it need to be written or said anywhere? Shouldn't one have the freedom to choose?

FBF at 8:22am March 1
We are governed by laws, promulgated by representatives of the community, which impose limits on behavior, limits often premised on competence and consequence. This is why people under 21 are not allowed to drink, why doctors have to pass board exams and submit themselves to regulation in order to practice. So a competence to determine suitability for death and the consequences of such a death would seem to be, at the very least, a prerequisite.

It should also be worth noting that the right to die is not enshrined in the bill of rights.

EdL at 2:25pm March 1
If Debbie Purdy is not hurting anyone or costing anyone a cent, why should she not be allowed to take her own life, especially since extreme pain and death is inevitable? She is not a teenage driver that might cause an accident or an incompetent doctor who could injure or kill a patient. What consequence?

Furthermore, who might be more competent than the woman herself who is not only living through the agony, but has clearly thought about this long and hard. There is no doubt that she is a smart person with no developmental or intellectual disabilities, so is she not competent?

FBF at 8:18pm March 1
Shall we write law from the experience of one? And while she may (or may not) be the most competent to decide, the question we should ask is "Is she competent enough?" - a question for which there may be no answer, since our direct understanding of the consequences of death are fairly limited. Consider: she is in pain, and would choose death. If, as some say, suicide is sin punishable by eternal damnation, a pain far greater than any she now endures, would she still choose to end her own life?

If she were to take her own life, then none could stop her. The problem is she is asking for an endorsement from society; she is asking the body politic to condone something it may not be prepared to condone, because it runs contrary to many fervently held beliefs, and it runs contrary to the society the body politic envisions for itself.

FBF at 8:26pm March 1
Erwin - worth adding that two states now permit this decision. I think Washington State was the 2nd one

EdL at 7:11am March 2
Indeed, there are many things we don't know, including the afterlife. If it exists or not, and if it does, what would it be like. Straight to the point, no one knows with certainty whether God exists or not. And if God does exist, by our very human & finite nature, no one can claim to know God's mind and in this case, how this being would respond to Ms. Purdy's choice. Regardless of how we think or what we personally believe, I hold that it is still her choice, not ours.

I also don't think that she is asking society to endorse her choice. A good question to ask is which (and whose) set of beliefs ought to dictate policies, create laws and establish institutions that govern democratic, diverse and fast changing societies.

FBF at 7:30am March 2
Actually, Erwin, she is asking society to look the other way, to disregard the laws it has in place. I liken it to my son asking for a motorcycle. When he is 21 and out of my house, responsible for his actions without depending on me, he can do what he wants. But when he lives in my house, he has to abide by my rules, and I cannot let him buy a motorcycle.

The way a democracy works, the majority's beliefs dictate policy, so long as they do not run afoul of the constitution. And last I checked, there was no right to die in the constitution.

EdLat 11:21am March 2
Well, this is not quite the same as a boy asking for a motorbike ... and a democracy is not quite the same as a family unit. No one gets to be dad of us all who tells the rest of us "kids" what to do or not do while under his roof. In a dictatorship, theocracy, hierarchical religious organization, private club, sure, but no not the same.

And thankfully, there are checks against majority rule. The majority's belief's do not always dictate policy (I'm certain a constitutional lawyer will be better able to talk about this). If things were always left to the majority, we'd be worse off. History offers vivid examples where laws and policies determined by the majority's beliefs and values resulted in the oppression and abuse of the minority - slavery, miscegenation, internment camps, lynching. Shall I go on?

EdL at 11:25am March 2
As for the constitution, there are people far smarter than me, who continue to debate what is consistent or not with the constitution. Even the very nature of the constitution has not been settled. Is it a static document or a dynamic one?

Finally, societies, norms, governments, constitutions and laws evolve and change. "Basic" beliefs themselves change even among religions!

I don't know how this debate will end though I highly doubt that agreement or consensus will be had. FBF, a conservative Roman Catholic, feels strongly about his beliefs and EdL, a progressive Buddiscopalian, is passionate about civil rights and social justice. Our Facebook profile pictures are rather telling. FBF's has him holding on to his son, while mine has me looking at the viewer through a mirror.

Image from 3quarksdaily.

1 comment:

Jeff Shaumeyer said...

It interests me how FBF keeps shifting the direction and source of his argument, countering whatever you propose with something immediate and negative rather than something illuminating a central principle. It seems that he's simply hoping for a preponderance of negativity to win his arguments. Is this because his only principle is "because God says so", but he deems it inadequate?