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Aug 23 2004
peterson responds

I stand corrected on the nature of Harriet Johnson's disability; my memory of her talk two years ago is obviously flawed. I would like to respond to some of her other objections.

Whether or not Johnson is "the exception," a word I didn't use, is not relevant to my remarks, although they may be to Singer's. Indeed the bulk of her paragraph has to do with her view of Singer's position on disabled persons and her problems with discriminatory views of such persons. I agree with her about the majority of cases, but as I said in my piece, if you are going to have a hard and fast position, it needs to acknowledge the hard cases.

In my extended family, a woman gave birth to a boy whom the doctors said was so severely disabled, that he should be let alone to die. The family did not wish to do that, and so they brought the boy home. Twenty some years later the boy died. At that point he grown to a length of perhaps 30 inches. He had never moved in any meaningful way, never talked, never showed any signs of personality. Now I am not quarreling with that family's decision. But I do think that if the parents had taken the doctor's advice, they would have acted ethically, and probably in the best interests of all concerned, including society.

As to her "kill them all" argument, no one is proposing this; it does not even lie at the bottom of the cliched "slippery slope" people like to invoke in discussions like these.

Johnson contends that intractable pain is a "straw man" for the actual "driving" problems of ...assisted suicide. She has no basis for saying that. People with severe intractable pain may become depressed about it, but that is not the same as the clinical depression common to the elderly that leads them to want to die. I think of an acquaintance who, suffering from such pain, blew his brains out early one morning several years ago. He simply did not want to live with such pain. Does Johnson think he should have gone on suffering? I think that if assisted suicide had been available in South Carolina, he might have spared his next door neighbor the grisly sight on the grass.

Johnson says when we allow people to declare other people "unworthy of living, and legitimate that in law, it is hard to stop." One, this is a simplistic, polemical view of what is happening, and two, it is the old slippery slope argument, long recognized by logicians as a fallacy. When she says, "the holocaust began with the killing of chronic and incurable patients in the back wards of hospitals", she implies a cause and effect that does not exist. Rather, the killings of these people, and the Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals, was possible because the populace saw all of these people as sub-human vermin. While there is certainly discrimination against the disabled, no one outside the fringe advocates pulling them off the streets and killing them. It is just the slippery slope argument, once more.

Finally, I must deal with Johnson's statement that Singer has never made so "outrageously condescending" a statement as my reference to her in a wheelchair. My impression, critical of him, was that Singer did not argue his points forcefully with her, and that perhaps that he did not want -- in that audience -- to be seen to be picking on an actual disabled person whose condition was made obvious by the wheelchair. Whether, my impression of Singer's motives and style was correct or incorrect is not the point. It was about Singer, and had nothing to do with Johnson's arguments, location, or right to have her opinions evaluated on their merits. As the cliche of the day has it: "It's not always about you!"

Feb 7 2008

i think its hard too to only look at this issue from a moral and ethical view, there are in my opinion other considerations that should be taken into account.

for instance, i think in america, you pay for medical services for say a disabled child, or at least have payed for medical insurance, but here in britain, we have a treatment at the point of need, and its free, the state pay's for it, if a doctor gives parent the bad news that their child is terably deformed and in sevear pain, and they suggest it should be allowed to die, the parents can say no, and demand thousands of pounds even hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling be used to keep it alive as long as possible in agony, and the medical staf need to take it to court and have a judge decide if they can withdraw treatment, and they can claim leagal aid so the state pays for their leagal bill, were as the hospital is paying for the treatment, and its leagal fees, and some were down the line after all this s over, the hospital is over budget for the year and closes a maternity ward to reduce costs, how is this in the intrest of the society, the nation cant keep on paying for all this usless, and some times in my opinion cruel, medical treatment.

and please dont take my view wrong, in another case the medical staff will take parents to court to have a judge rule that they can administer treatment to a child thats parents for religious reasons refused them to treat, such as mormons, or is it jehovas witness, this can be a transplant or a simple blood transfusion, so were dose morality, and ethics stand on this, parent willing to have a child die for a religious view, and parents willing to basicaly torture a child that will eventualy die, because of compassion?

as we can see from these cases, its hard to know what is right in all cases, there needs to be a body that decides these cases, but not just a law that says this is allowed, and this is not, life isnt black and white, there are a lot of gray areas and we need to accept this and deal with it best we can, allways knowing, we are human and will make mistakes, we can only live and learn, and hopefully, get better as time goes on at not making the same mistakes.

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