Murder in the Age of Hypermedia

March 2, 2008 § 56 Comments

Everyone who knowingly took the side of starving Terri Schiavo to death is, himself, guilty of murder. This is true for everyone who ever so much as said a word on the subject: no material ‘distance’ between onesself and the actual act can exonerate formal cooperation with evil. Formal cooperation with the murder of a particular person is every bit as wicked as actually committing the murder onesself. They are all murderers, to the last man, everyone who formally cooperated in Terri’s murder.

Isn’t it wonderful how the age of hypermedia empowers us to formally cooperate with so many grave sins?

Reading this post is what motivated me to reinforce this obvious point; this point that we should all already know. Formally cooperate with the murder of a particular person and you are a murderer.

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§ 56 Responses to Murder in the Age of Hypermedia

  • Anonymous says:

    The Blackadder Says: Doesn’t formal cooperation require cooperation. If I read about Hitler killing himself in his bunker and think “Good, he got what’s coming to him” that might be wrong, but is it right to say that I’ve thereby murdered Hitler? I don’t think so.

  • zippy says:

    <>Doesn’t formal cooperation require cooperation?<>Yes. Saying to one’s neighbor (and meaning it) “those self-serving republicans should let her die in peace” as the public controversy rages is cooperation. “Remote formal cooperation” is not exonerable in the way that remote material cooperation is exonerable.“Cooperation” refers to acts which cooperate with some other act. Cooperation can be remote or proximate, formal or material. Of those, the only kind of cooperation with the evil acts of others which is (potentially) morally licit is remote material cooperation. Formal cooperation with evil is always morally evil, no matter how remote.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I don’t think it applies to most in this case, but some people might claim that they were not opposed to saving Schiavo’s life, but to the particular means employed to prevent her starving.So, if one was a strong federalist, it seems that one could legitimately oppose the federal government’s acting in this case without being complicit in murder.Again, I don’t think this applies to most in this case, who are more than happy to let the federal government interfere for other less pressing reasons, but there is the possibility.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I had never thought of “cooperation” as being the right term when one had no effect on the outcome.Not to be misunderstood: I think that people who cheered on Terri’s murder had accepted evil into their own hearts to a frightening degree. It’s just that I would usually think of any sort of “cooperation” as involving actually doing something that assisted the action. But is that just where the difference between formal and material cooperation lies? Yet I would think that deliberately giving objective assistance is in the scale of evils worse than condoning the evil in one’s mind and heart, or even in spoken opinion, without giving objective help to those performing it.

  • zippy says:

    <>I had never thought of “cooperation” as being the right term when one had no effect on the outcome.<>We could consider whether a particular cooperative act, in order to be cooperative, had to be causally <>necessary<> in order for the outcome to occur. I think the answer is in the negative: that (say) marching in a protest march carrying a sign that says “let Terri die in peace” or “it is time to let Michael move on” would constitute cooperation, even though, as a strictly value-neutral causal matter, Terri’s murder would have been carried out even if one had not personally marched.Speech, it seems to me, more definitely entails formal cooperation moreso than other kinds of acts. One’s speech about the acts of others often reflects what one <>wills<> or <>intends<> in the acts of others. John’s point is well taken, but to the extent that when one speaks one is choosing that Michael ought to be empowered to kill Terri one is formally cooperating. If one took the explicit position “Michael definitely should not kill Terri and she should be protected by the law, but that particular means should not be used to stop him” then it becomes more arguable. Typically, however, the actual speech-acts of formal cooperation[*] I have witnessed have not taken that position.If an act is <>formal<> cooperation with someone else’s evil act, it doesn’t matter how <>proximate<> it is to the actual evil act itself. Saying “those republicans ought to let her die in peace” might not be as <>proximate<> as carrying the sign in the march; but the point to my post was to illustrate (or at least assert) that when it comes to formal cooperation with evil, the proximity-remoteness axis is irrelevant in the sense that no amount of remoteness can render formal cooperation with evil morally licit.Now Blackadder may have a stronger point that I first considered: that is, on some juridical level the person might be considered an <>accessory to murder<> as opposed to a murderer. But the formal cooperator is still guilty of the murder as a moral matter, no matter how remote that formal cooperation. How we deal with various parties as a juridical matter is and should be different from their personal guilt as a moral matter.[*] It is of course possible for a particular speech-act to be a <>lie<>, in which case all bets are off when it comes to determining formal cooperation.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think the idea is that it’s cooperation because the person _would_ help to bring the evil about if he could, even if in fact he has no causal connection to it. Is that right?So if a 16-year-old says, “Abortion should be kept legal” this indicates that he’d like to do something to keep it legal even though he can’t yet vote.Or is the idea rather that by speaking in these ways one is cooperating by trying to bring others to agree with the evil, thus lessening the chances that it, or other acts like it, will be stopped?

  • Histor says:

    “I think the idea is that it’s cooperation because the person _would_ help to bring the evil about if he could, even if in fact he has no causal connection to it. Is that right?”I thought it was cooperation because the mere fact of publicly saying “Let Terri die in peace” aided those who wanted her dead. In other words, had the majority of Americans went public and said “Are you crazy? This is murder!”, the federal and Floridan governments would be falling over each other to stop Terri’s starvation. Since the majority did not (at least in public), they let her starve.Histor

  • zippy says:

    Exactly, Histor. Speech in favor of X is cooperation with X. If a 16 year old says “abortion should be legal” to someone she is probably doing materially more in that act to keep abortion legal than if she voted. Even if she were not, it still remains the case that speech is an act: it puts potentialities into motion, turns possibility into actuality. As with any act it may have results counter to her purposes; but nevertheless she has a purpose and has acted upon it. The referent of “purpose” is those things with which she formally cooperates: the reason(s) why she acts (where speaking is an act). The <>actual material efficaciousness<> of her act does not matter, that is, does not matter in terms of being capable of making her act morally licit.In a sense this is the flip-side of intrinsic immorality. In the case of intrinsic evil, no matter what <>purposes<> are in play it is not possible to choose the particular behavior without a disordered will. In the case of <>formal cooperation<> with evil, it doesn’t matter what particular potentialities are put into play (what behavior is chosen) because the intention is evil. Assuming I understand this stuff correctly, intrinsic evil is the choice of a per se evil behavior; while formal cooperation with evil is any act whatsoever motivated by an evil intention. The two (formal cooperation with evil and intrinsic evil) are quite distinct, and in neither case can the one “save” the other, rendering it morally licit: that is, no chosen behavior can make an evil intention good, and no good intention can make an evil chosen behavior good.

  • William Luse says:

    I assume Zippy’s talking about the moral guilt that ought to be imputed, rather than the legal guilt for which one <>must<> be prosecuted.I’m not familiar with the website, but I’m a little puzzled by the ambivalence of the vox-nova poster, as when he says that “up until very recently, the question of whether it was licit to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from a patient in a persistent vegetative state remained open.” Theolgians are brought to bear, of course. But why would any theologian or layman think that the Church had ever approved withdrawing someone’s nutrition and hydration for the purpose of causing death? One of those mentioned, Gerald Kelly, quite clearly says that the underlying condition must be terminal. Another, William May, states with equal clarity in one of his articles that “to deny food and water to an innocent human being in order to bring about that person’s death is homicide.”I’m also bothered by red herrings, like “Why were the zealots who were so concerned about the life of one woman in America not seem to care about the thousands of Iraqis slaughtered by American bombs at the same time? Why did they support Schiavo, while refusing to fund health care for people who might not be able to afford even basic treatment…?” Opposing the murder of “one woman” makes you not only a zealot, but a presumed supporter of the wholesale slaughter of Iraqis and of a nihilistic indifference to the well-being of the poor.It all started because Bill Donahue jumped on Obama for objecting to congressional intervention in the Schiavo case, which, in that regard, makes him no worse than my own so-called conservative, so-called Republican Senator Mel Martinez, who also publicly regretted his participation. But I should think Obama’s bloody disdain for the unborn has already established his credentials in this area. I wonder if voting for him would involve some kind of “formal cooperation.”

  • zippy says:

    <>I wonder if voting for him would involve some kind of “formal cooperation.”<>One of the directions I am going with this – though I don’t know as yet where it will end up myself – is toward the notion that normative speech necessarily involves <>either<> formal cooperation with that-which-is-spoken-as-normative <>or<> a lie. There may be some interesting implications in there to be discovered, especially if voting is, as it seems to be, a kind of speech.Still though, wherever that inquiry may lead, I thought this an appropriate opportunity to beat the dead horse of formal cooperation with evil versus intrinsic evil to death once again. I don’t think a deontological (which is to say Catholic) moral theory which fails to take both into account as quite distinct and distinguishable things, either of which is independently capable of rendering a particular act morally impermissable, can sustain coherence.

  • Anonymous says:

    The Blackadder Says: I’m interested to see how far Zippy is willing to take this. Does he think that, for example, a person who supported what happened to Ms. Schiavo ought to be put on trial and convicted as an accessory to her murder? If not, why not? After all, such a person, on Zippy’s account, is just as morally culpable for her murder as anyone else.

  • zippy says:

    <>I’m interested to see how far Zippy is willing to take this.<>The point to my post isn’t that they deserve jail for it. The point to my post is that they deserve Hell for it; and that unless they repent, that is precisely what they will get.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    So I gather that this has no relevance to other people’s relation to those people who speak out in support of evil. For example, it wouldn’t have any relevance for the degree of prudential care one had to take (or didn’t have to take) to avoid harming people in war if one realized that a certain group of civilians were cheering on the soldiers on their side of an unjust war or speaking out in support of atrocities?

  • zippy says:

    I’m having a hard time grokking the question. An assumption that I touched on briefly is that the advocacy-speech in question is <>truthful<>, that is, truthfully expresses the intentions of the speaker. If it is a lie, as I said, all bets are off when it comes to determining intentions: if someone says he supports Michael killing Terri but he doesn’t actually support Michael killing Terri then he is a liar, and his cooperation with Michael killing Terri is in fact material not formal. “Formal” refers to the acting subjects <>intentions<>, for which his advocacy-speech, <>if truthful<>, is a proxy.Keep in mind that some murders are worse than others without thereby becoming not-murder, and my concern here is with moral species.

  • zippy says:

    <>For example, it wouldn’t have any relevance for the degree of prudential care one had to take (or didn’t have to take) to avoid harming people in war if one realized that a certain group of civilians were cheering on the soldiers on their side of an unjust war or speaking out in support of atrocities?<>OK, I think I “get” this now.An advocate of atrocities is formally cooperating with those atrocities, and is, in my understanding, a legitimate target — subject as always to consideration of proportionality. That is to say, response to his advocacy can be morally licit as long as such a response is directed at stopping the actual harm he is doing through his advocacy, with our chosen means proportionate to the end of stopping the harm he is doing. (It may be worth noting that I don’t understand “harm” at all the way libertarians claim to understand “harm”).But again my focus here is not on prudential responses by the State to acts of formal cooperation with evil. My focus is on what constitutes formal cooperation with grave evil for the acting subject himself. I am concerned primarily in this post with his self-inflicted damnation.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    For those looking for culpability reducers, the remoteness does tend to increase ignorance. I don’t want to go too far here, because I don’t want to cause confusion, and I don’t want people to think I’m introducing materiality into the discussion. My other great fear would be introducing laxity, the idea that one can never understand or condone grave sin. I think people are fully capable of that.On a general level, it would seem to me that one would have to establish an obligation before cooperation could be established. Blackadder’s example strikes me as involving a frivolity rather than cooperation. That frivolity could be sinful matter of some kind, but I don’t think it is cooperation.In the case of Shiavo and in so much as it is understood that the action supported was killing, I think anyone who campaigned for her death is guilty of formal cooperation. For those that believed she should be allowed to die and believed that was the chosen behavior, I think they acted ignorantly resulting in venial sin. I am a bit hesitant to create a class where large numbers of people everywhere are in grave sin for formal cooperation. In priciple this is possible of course. There is a certain tendency when speaking of formal cooperation to claim that anyone who doesn’t agree to my course of action is formally cooperating with evil. Zippy and those more interested in truth don’t do this of course. I’m thinking in particular of those who seem to think bishops excommunicate themselves by allowing certain politicians to receive communion.

  • zippy says:

    <>I’m thinking in particular of those who seem to think bishops excommunicate themselves by allowing certain politicians to receive communion.<>It seems to me that when we start talking about non-speech (non-intrinsically-immoral) acts it becomes a more difficult subject, precisely because we have less ‘access’ to the acting subject’s intentions. In the case of advocacy-speech though that advocacy-speech is (if truthful) directly a representation of the acting subjects intentions, that is, of his formal cooperation.

  • JohnMcG says:

    The whole incident continues to fill me with despair.When I first heard the story, I was quite sure that people wouldn’t stand for it.That it turned out to not only be a politicial loser, but the poster child used to justify marginalizing pro-lifers, still confuses me.With a Republican governor, president, and Congress, the Republicans managed to.. delay removing a feeding tube for three days.Sends chills down your spine, doesn’t it? Clearly, they must be stopped.urrrrgghh…..

  • Tom says:

    <>There may be some interesting implications in there to be discovered, especially if voting is, as it seems to be, a kind of speech.<>Voting — at least by secret ballot — sure doesn’t seem to me to be a kind of speech, unless by “speech” you mean something a whole lot broader than speech.

  • Lydia:One can cooperate in ways that <>in fact<> have no effect. George pulls the trigger, thereby cooperating with his mob boss who told him to do it, but the gun jams, so his boss shoots the victim. George still cooperated in the killing.Moreover, there are times where one’s individual action has no effect, but collectively the action brings about the intended effect. No one vote for Socrates’ death had his death as an effect. But each vote was an action intended to help bring about Socrates’ death, and hence was formal cooperation.The kind of case that Zippy is giving might possibly be like that. If I contribute to a public controversy, and do so in favor of a murder, I am thereby participating in public deliberation, on the side of the murder. While my individual expression of opinion has no effective, the collective expression of opinion may well have an effect. That said, I do not think it is correct to call even a morally unjustified disconnection from life support a murder when one’s intention is not to kill, but simply to remove what one believes to be demeaning, excessively costly or painful life support (note that the last of these cannot be an issue in the case of an unconscious patient). If such disconnection is in fact unjustified, it still isn’t murder. Of course, to formally cooperate in an unjustified disconnection from life support is also wrong. But it’s important to use the right word here.The phrase “let her die in peace” can be understood in two ways: “let her <>die<> in peace”, where one is supporting the death, and “let her die in <>peace<>” where one’s support is not behind the death, but behind the death’s peacefulness. In the latter case at least, one is not a murderer–though of course if the disconnection was unjustified (as I think it was), one has done something wrong.

  • Zippy:You raise a really good question.I worry a bit about different intentions one might have. Suppose that Patrick tell me “Abortion should be legal.” It does not follow that Patrick is cooperating with abortion or even with the legality of abortion, unless Patrick is saying this with the <>intention<> of contributing to the legalization of abortion. But Patrick could be making his assertion with no intention of legalizing abortion–he could be saying it simply in order to communicate what he thinks is a truth. He might not even <>care<> about legalizing abortion. It is one thing to believe something should be done, and another to <>care<> about doing it.Here’s a case where this is clear. Suppose that Patrick believes abortion should be legal. Suppose, however, that Patrick (a) profits financially from the illegality of abortion (e.g., he runs an “abortion travel” business), and (b) knows that you have so little respect for his opinion, that his believing something makes it more likely that you will oppose it. So he tells you that abortion should be legal. He speaks sincerely in the sense that he speaks what he believes is true. But in speaking, let us suppose, he is not trying to promote the legality of abortion–on the contrary, he is trying to contribute to the illegality of abortion, and thus to his financial profit. So it is possible to assert that something ought to be done with no intention that it be done.<>A fortiori<>, it is possible to assert that something ought to be legal with no intention that anybody should do the legal action. Suppose it were illegal to break a private, non-contractual promise with insufficient reason. One might reasonably oppose this law, seeking to legalize private, non-contractual promise-breaking, not because one intends someone to break a private promise, but because one believes that the law’s involvement in these matters damages the dynamics of human relationships. So, saying “Abortion should be legal” is only a formal cooperation in murder if (a) one intends by saying it to promote its legality, and (b) one intends by this legality to help more people have abortions (or something like that).None of this is a defense of the legality of abortion. The analogy to private promise-breaking fails, since abortion is in fact the killing of a human person, and the protection of the lives of human persons is one of the primary duties of the state. However, it is still true that legalizing abortion need not be the same as murder if one does not thereby intend to help with abortions, though it is still gravely wrong.

  • zippy says:

    <>Voting — at least by secret ballot — sure doesn’t seem to me to be a kind of speech, …<>The secretness-plus-aggregation is what makes it seem unlike other speech, to be sure. Perhaps it is like shouting in a mob while wearing a mask. But I would still consider shouting “aye” or “nay” in a mob while wearing a mask a form of speech: it is directly expressing an intention through symbols, as distinguished from carrying out an intention in some act which directly sets potentialities into motion.But then even when it comes to speech there is speech and then there is speech, if we aren’t literalists. The idea here isn’t that advocacy-speech gives us <>perfect<> epistemic access to intentions and thus formal cooperation: even seeing Bob kill Mary as an eyewitness doesn’t give us that – but rather that it gives us <>pretty clear<> epistemic access. Peoples’ intentions are never so clear as when they explicitly tell us their intentions.

  • zippy says:

    <>However, it is still true that legalizing abortion need not be the same as murder if one does not thereby intend to help with abortions, though it is still gravely wrong.<>In the Schiavo case in particular though the controversy was over killing <>that woman right there<>. Things do get more squirrely as we “abstract up”, but if I can point at the living woman that the advocacy-speech is cooperating with killing things appear more clear-cut.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I think for many people, Terri Schiavo <>was<> an abstraction — people weren’t so much out to get her as they were to assert that Tom DeLay and others don’t get to tell them what to do, darn it.Of course, the Culture of Death is all about seeing human persons as abstractions rather than as vessels of their own intrinsic dignity and worth.

  • zippy says:

    <>I think for many people, Terri Schiavo was an abstraction …<>So much the worse for them though. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t <>intend for her to be killed<> when they articulated as much. It seems to me that there can be a kind of “wishful thinking” about intentions as much as there can be about chosen behaviors. An intention is what one <>wills to be the case<>, not little speeches that one tells onesself about that willing.Anscombe:<>At the same time, the principle [of double effect] has been repeatedly abused from the seventeenth century up till now. The causes lie in the history of philosophy. From the seventeenth century till now what may be called the Cartesian psychology has dominated the thought of philosophers and theologians. According to this psychology, an intention was an interior act of the mind which could be produced at will. Now if intention is all important – as it is – in determining the goodness or badness of an action, then, on this theory of what intention is, a marvellous way offered itself of making any action lawful. You only had to ‘direct your intention’ in a suitable way. In practice this means making a little speech to yourself: “What I mean to be doing is…”This perverse doctrine has occasioned repeated condemnations by the Holy See from the seventeenth century to the present day.<>

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Hello, Alex. I never saw you over here before.I do think what was done to Terri Schiavo was murder, because food and fluids are basic care, and these were deliberately withheld from her by people responsible for her well-being, when it would have been perfectly possible to administer them. (I guess that last bit is redundant with “deliberately withheld.”) It was murder just as much as deliberately setting your newborn baby on your living room floor and giving him no fluids for two weeks until he died would be murder. You are responsible. You are in loco parentis. You have the fluids. No one else is being given this child or the opportunity to care for him. You are deliberately withholding basic care and preventing others from giving it (if only by hiding the child’s plight), and you are going on doing so until death comes. That’s a form of murder. So in that sense, it’s possible to engage in “passive murder.”Now, I think I see your point about collective action, and how this connects to Zippy’s idea. Does this mean that a person who was sitting alone watching his TV and said out loud, “They should let her die” is in that moment doing a different kind of thing? Should we say that for speech to be speech in the relevant sense here for formal cooperation it must have some connection with the rest of the human world?

  • Hey Zippy:Since my post started this fascinating discourse, I might as well jump in. I would say that what you write is true, if it is the case that withdrawing artificial nutrution and hydration from a patient in the (very specific case of) PVS is always morally illicit. You cannot deny that this was much-debated question, and the whole reason the US bishops sought clarification from the CDF, which came only a few months ago.Personally, I accept the CDF’s decision (of course!) but I also admit that I was taught at one time that it could go the other way: such intervention could be judged extraordinary and disproportionate for a host of reasons, including if it is deemed too expensive, unlikely to work, is associated with great suffering, or might save the patient’s life at too great a psychological, spiritual, or interpersonal cost. This is all fairly standard stuff. The question is, how does this apply to PVS patients? Consider this case. Fr. Robert McManus, asked to advise Bishop Gelineau (Providence, Rhode Island) on a case involving a Catholic in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for 2 years on the morality of removing life-sustaining nutrition and fluids, stated: “The medical treatments which are being provided the patient, even those which are supplying nutrition and hydration artificially, offer no reasonable hope of benefit to her. This lack of reasonable hope or benefit renders the artificially invasive medical treatments futile and thus extraordinary, and disproportionate and unduly burdensome. Moreover, the continuation of such medical treatments is causing a significant and precarious economic burden to [the patient’s] family. It must be unambiguously clear that the primary intention of removing what has been competently judged to be extraordinary means of artificially prolonging the patient’s natural life is to alleviate the burden and suffering of the patient and not to cause her death.”At one point, the Texas bishops took this line, while the Pennsylvania bishops took the other side. As Bill May said, virtuous people disagreed here. Richard Doerflinger of the USCCB is also on record as saying that Catholics could disagree– until the Church spoke. I accept that. What bothers me is how people honed in on this poor woman, while ignoring the many who die in our society because they have no health insurance, or because their insurance refused to pay for treatment. How people who were clueless about the overall culture of life tried to hijack this one case.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I notice that, as usual, “no reasonable hope of benefit” doesn’t include the reasonable hope of the benefit of, well, nourishing and hydrating the person and hence preventing death by dehydratio! Y’know, what food and water do for you and me. It’s astonishing how, when a person is severely mentally handicapped, suddenly food and water have to attain the magical property of being able to render them un-handicapped, or at least somewhat less handicapped, a property nutrition and hydration by themselves have never had, before they are deemed to provide “benefit.”

  • zippy says:

    MM: as far as I can tell, that is just apologetics in support of murdering a crippled woman. That the Republicans were against murdering her doesn’t make formal cooperation with murdering her in any way acceptable. And verbally or otherwise standing in the way of attempts to “save” her – that is, standing in the way of attempts to keep on feeding her as she had been being fed for a decade – is simply, damnably inexcusable. It was not possible to excuse or advocate pulling her feeding tube without doing so <>with an intention to kill her<>.We’ve gone around this basic point a number of times in a number of threads. Abstract symbolic logical possibility is not enough to establish actual possibility given actual human nature. You can’t torture someone with a good intention: it simply isn’t possible, even though postulating its possibility is not logically contradictory. It may be logically possible for someone to “intend” that <>those people over there<> be <>forced to stop feeding her as they had been for a decade<> without intending <>thereby to kill her<>; but only in an imaginary world where “intention” doesn’t mean what it <>truly means given actual human nature<>. Anyone who was in favor of <>forcing Terri’s parents not to feed her<> necessarily in fact also intended to kill her, and is guilty of formal cooperation with murder.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:<>“That the Republicans were against murdering her doesn’t make formal cooperation with murdering her in any way acceptable.”<>Let’s not paint with such a broad stroke — after all, there were those individuals like Jeb Bush (who had converted to Catholicism) who tried to save Terry’s life.<>You can’t torture someone with a good intention<>Zippy, I don’t mean to bring this matter up in order to make an incendiary claim that would bring us off-topic; only that events like the inquisition were actually instances that utilized torture as a means to remedy/save the souls of various people from a state of heresy and inevitable damnation (or, at least, that was the thought anyway) — not unlike a doctor performing surgery at a time of war in the battlefield in order to rid of the gangrenous body part so that the whole body could be saved. His aim is not to intentionally inflict pain on the patient but to heal that person. So it is with this most controversial event.e.

  • zippy says:

    <>Let’s not paint with such a broad stroke — after all, there were those individuals like Jeb Bush (who had converted to Catholicism) who tried to save Terry’s life.<>The point though was precisely that the Republicans were <>objectively in the right<>, contra MM’s characterization of events as a “hijacking”. Just because one doesn’t like Republicans and thinks they are wrong on a great many matters that doesn’t excuse <>formally taking the wrong side in a murder<>, merely because the R’s were on the right side in that particular case.As for the other point, I brought up torture as a subject upon which MM and I are in near-perfect agreement, precisely for that reason. I don’t intend to rehash torture as an intrinsically evil act here. I’ve already said more on the matter than any self-respecting person ought to have to say in any one lifetime.

  • William Luse says:

    <>I do not think it is correct to call even a morally unjustified disconnection from life support a murder when one’s intention is not to kill, but simply to remove what one believes to be demeaning, excessively costly or painful life support (note that the last of these cannot be an issue in the case of an unconscious patient). If such disconnection is in fact unjustified, it still isn’t murder.<>Lydia’s already addressed this, but it sounds to me as if Dr. Pruss is excusing some people from the charge of murder based on what those people <>believe<> to be the case. It’s the dictatorship of intention all over again. An appeal to invincible ignorance requires circumstances under which one <>cannot know<> what he is doing. Who among us other than the insane and the feeble-minded could not know that Terri’s tube was withdrawn for the purpose of killing her? There are certain things we <>ought<> to know and can be held culpable for <>not<> knowing, and I should think that “letting” someone die is one of those things. He says that “we ought to use the right word.” Well, what is that word? As for Morning’s Minion, I will simply repeat: why would any Catholic think that the Church would ever give permission to starve someone to death? That theologians were all conflicted about it, and that the Holy See had not specifically addressed this precise medical condition, does not translate into permission to do it. The rush to presume this permission never ceases to amaze, and the fact that some theologians <>were<> conflicted shows not at all to their credit, as though a case like Terri’s were a hard case, when in fact it was quite straightforward.

  • Tom says:

    <>Who among us other than the insane and the feeble-minded could not know that Terri’s tube was withdrawn for the purpose of killing her?<>Lots of people believed she was already dead (specifically, “brain-dead”).<>…why would any Catholic think that the Church would ever give permission to starve someone to death?<>You’re begging the question, but the theologians MM quotes give their reasons.

  • zippy says:

    <>Lots of people believed she was already dead<>No sane person who saw the video of her thought she was dead.<>(specifically, “brain-dead”).<>IOW, not dead but “dead”, as in, in a state in which by assumption it was OK to kill her, even though she wasn’t dead.

  • Scott says:

    Here is the Terri Schiavo Foundations’ FAQ which goes into the “brain dead” objection: http://www.terrisfight.org/pages.php?page_id=32

  • Tom says:

    <>No sane person who saw the video of her thought she was dead.<>If you mean this to be an empirical claim, I think it would be easy to show that it is false.

  • zippy says:

    <>If you mean this to be an empirical claim, <>What I mean is that anyone who saw the video of her and claimed that she was dead is either a liar or insane.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    The “brain-dead” thing nearly makes me crazy. People literally do not know that the phrase “brain dead” refers _not_ to a state of lack of consciousness, nor to _any_ degree of lack of upper cortical function, but ostensibly to _physical death_ in which the entire brain, including the brain stem, ceases to function. Specifically *if someone is brain dead in the technical and only sense in which the term should ever be used, he cannot breathe on his own*. That is just one aspect of it. A phyically brain-dead person has no reflexes at all, not even brain-stem reflexes, because the entire brain has stopped functioning. The body is therefore not functioning at all.PVS people are _not_ brain-dead (insofar as “PVS” should be treated as a true term of diagnosis at all).Mind you, I think some caution and skepticism is in order about the diagnosis of physical brain death. It can be and more than once has been misdiagnosed, and there are those who doubt that the diagnosis is ever good enough to be relied upon. But I’m talking about what it’s intended to indicate, physiologically, and how this completely differs from being “in a coma” being “PVS,” or what-have-you.The appalling confusion on this matter is seeping backward from the lay community to the medical community, so that some doctors are now throwing the phrase around for people who do not even begin to meet the ordinary diagnostic criteria for being brain-dead in the medico-legal sense.One reason this is so important is that vital organs can legally be taken once whole-brain death has been diagnosed. While there certainly are “ethicists” (yuck) who would _like_ to expand the organ-farm to include people who are unmistakably physically _alive_ but who lack the consciousness they consider necessary for “personhood,” they have not yet legally prevailed, and their proposal represents a _change_ from the present medico-legal state of affairs. It’s imperative that it stays that way, and this sloppy use of “brain death” that has become so common in the media, etc., is hastening the day when people like Terri can literally be actively murdered by having their hearts and kidneys cut out in an operating theater.

  • m.z. forrest says:

    To put what Tom said a different way, there were a number of people who thought removing artificial hydration and nutrition were allowing death and not causing it. It is one thing to argue that these people acted in bad faith making these arguments because they wanted the right to kill and therefore formally cooperated in evil; and another thing to say that these people were mistaken but choose a licit action if we were to follow their suppositions. This is the danger I alluded to above. Formal cooperation is very serious, and we often act recklessly when we attempt to ascertain formal cooperation indirectly.

  • zippy says:

    <>…there were a number of people who thought removing artificial hydration and nutrition were allowing death and not causing it.<>Insane people, sure, or people who culpably refused to think about it and expressed strong opinions anyway, or who thought about it and lied. (I’m ignoring the ambivalent who didn’t have or express a consistently held firm opinion over the period of the events in question). I don’t think there is an “out” here other than a dubious appeal to a fundamentally broken capacity to perceive the obvious.<>Formal cooperation is very serious, …<>All the more reason to make sure that people understand it – and in particular that they don’t adopt the perverse understanding Anscombe criticizes – and don’t do it.

  • sriddle415 says:

    Dear Zippy,In support of whatyou say in one of the last comments:What I mean is that anyone who saw the video of her and claimed that she was dead is either a liar or insane.A person is not a poem and death, even “brain death” is not a metaphor. If her brain were dead, so would she be. We use that malapropism to refer to a state that does not resemble the life activities we carry on daily. But the inability to express higher thinking even to do things for oneself is in no way equivalent to or representative of death.Brain-death is a metaphor–metaphors are very precarious things on which to hang a human life. We should state unequivocally what we mean. And when we say “brain dead” we mean–a drain on my finances in a state I would not desire to be in. We can mean little, if anything else, because, as noted, if the brain were dead, so would be the person. Amazing the way we use words to create illusions of reality that make it easier for us to do away with what frightens or annoys us.shalom,Steven

  • zippy says:

    <>Brain-death is a metaphor–metaphors are very precarious things on which to hang a human life. We should state unequivocally what we mean.<>That is a very interesting comment, Steven. Maybe Anscombe’s criticism can be restated in those kinds of terms. I’ll give it a tentative try.An intention is the relation between our will and real objects. To the extent we can’t know the real objects we act upon (in our own acts) or will to be acted upon by others (when we formally cooperate), we are invincibly ignorant. But re-labeling a real object with a different label – employing a metaphor – doesn’t change reality, and (importantly) it doesn’t change our <>knowledge<> of reality: this metaphorical re-labeling is merely comfort food for a guilty conscience, unless we are literally incapable of perceiving reality (in this case the reality of a living woman moving and smiling before our very eyes on the video); that is, unless we are insane.The reality of our acts and intentions, as incarnate persons, is far less purely subjective – far less dualistically ‘disconnected’ from our bodies and the potentialities our bodies put into motion in response to our willing, including when we speak – than many modern people seem to think.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    So it’s not even a hard case in your book. It is impossible for people in good faith to disagree, particularly before the CDF clarification. The only alternative to formal cooperation with evil is insanity.I have no problem with your moral calculus in the Shiavo case. I think you are trying to pound a square peg formal cooperation into a round hole though. Ligouri in particular I think would be apalled. It would seem there has to be a way to disagree on hard cases without being insane or evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>So it’s not even a hard case in your book.<>That’s right. Not a hard case at all.

  • M.Z. Forrest says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • zippy says:

    You might want to rephrase the question.

  • William Luse says:

    <>Lots of people believed she was already dead (specifically, “brain-dead”).<>Yeah. And they were wrong. Not even close. As though one could be partly dead. And they had an obligation to know this <>before deciding to kill her.<><>You’re begging the question, but the theologians MM quotes give their reasons.<>Yeah. And they were wrong too, and in the ecstasy of that wrongness presumed a permission never given, which was to starve a woman to death. Also known as murder.I think I’m finally sick of the sentiment that it’s “possible for people of good faith to disagree.” In this case – no, it’s not possible.Wonderful comment by Steven.

  • Mr. Luse:Whether someone is committing murder <>is<> a matter of what one intends. If one does not intend to cause death, then one is not committing murder.

  • Lydia:Yeah, it does seem that the person who said to himself “They should let her die” is not cooperating in murder. Here’s one reason to think so. Normally, the decision whether to cooperating in a killing–even a killing one takes to be justified–is a serious decision. This is true even if the decision is done as part of a collective, say by casting a ballot. But muttering something to oneself isn’t a decision of that sort. If the mutterer thought his muttering was causally connected to the death, he would probably think through his muttering some moreIn fact, I now think that even in a more social setting, it’s not that likely that ordinary people say these things with the intention of cooperating with killing. Here’s why. I think people generally do not think about the interconnection of society, of the ways in which what they say affects social mores and the actions of others. People are heedless of their actions. But to be a murderer, one has to intend to causally contribute to a death.A merely unconscious contribution to a death does not count as murder, even if one actually wishes for the death. For it is one thing to wish for someone’s death and another to intend to contribute to that death. There is a difference between (a) Patricia wishing Tom dead and then striking Tom with the intention of killing Tom and (b) Patricia wishing Tom dead and then striking Tom with the intention of hurting Tom–even if accidentally the latter results in Tom’s death. I actually think that obvious neglect is not murder either when there is no intention to cause death. I suspect the law disagrees with me (for instance, I’ve seen the claim that in law it is murder to do something that any reasonable person would expect to cause death). At the same time, I worry a bit about the need to call every serious offense against human life “murder”. I take “murder” to be a very specific moral offense: intentionally (and successfully–but to me that doesn’t matter) contributing to the death of a juridically innocent person. There are many moral offenses against life in the vicinity of murder, many of them mortal sins, some of them worse than some cases of murder. Thus lethal neglect of one’s own child is not murder, but is even worse than murdering a stranger. Torturing someone to death may also be worse than murder even if one does not intend for death to result from the torture.

  • William Luse says:

    Dr. Pruss,<>If one does not intend to cause death, then one is not committing murder.<>As I said, the dictatorship of intention. If you’re making the claim that the people who pulled Terri’s tube did not intend to cause her death, then you’re possessed of a charitable impulse that the Terris of this world can do without. And the people you’re letting off the hook are delusional to the point of being certifiable. Or else (as Zippy says) they are liars.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “Thus lethal neglect of one’s own child is not murder, but is even worse than murdering a stranger.”I don’t know that anything good is gained by insisting that passive murder is impossible. If someone innocent has been locked in a hermetically sealed room, you have the key in your pocket, you know all of this, and you walk off home, eat your dinner, and continue with your life, reading of his asphyxiation death in the paper a few days later, do we really want to say you haven’t murdered him?I think one really has to have a _definitional_ insistence that passive murder is impossible in order not to include deliberately leaving your infant in a closet for two weeks until he dies, and all the more so if you are careful to make sure no one finds out until after he’s dead. And remember that in Terri’s case, police were involved to make sure that neither her parents nor anyone else took her out of there and reinstated feeding. She was not only fatally neglected but actively sealed off from outside help. Those who wished to care for her would have been forcibly prevented from doing so.

  • William Luse says:

    Lydia, I think he’s trying to define murder narrowly, which perhaps this is supposed to accomplish: <>I take “murder” to be a very specific moral offense: intentionally (and successfully–but to me that doesn’t matter) contributing to the death of a juridically innocent person.<>I can’t for the life of me see how Terri’s case doesn’t fit this definition, nor the “lethal neglect of one’s own child.” It’s not as though Terri was the victim of “mere” neglect. At first they fed her. Then they took away her food. This latter was a calculated, material act undertaken for the purpose of “intentionally and successfully…contributing to the death of a juridically innocent person.” One could get pedantically particular about the distinction of means, but how was removing the tube any different than pulling the trigger on a gun to her head, save that one method takes longer to do its work? Both are employed to the same effect.We were informed earlier that we “need to use the right word” to describe these cases he deems “not murder,” but I still haven’t been told what that word is.

  • Mr. Luse:The right word is probably some version of “homicide”.Lydia:There is such a thing as passive murder. But I want to emphasize that the following are two different moral acts:– Not feeding a child, e.g., because one is too lazy and one doesn’t care either way whether the child will live or die.– Not feeding a child in order that the child should die.It is the second that is passive murder. The first is some form of homicide, I guess. This distinction has little to do with passivity or activity. The reason for making the distinction has to do with double effect. I distinguish the following two actions:– Dropping a bomb at the enemy HQ in order to kill enemy soldiers, while knowing that there are hostages in the HQ who will be killed.– Dropping a bomb at the enemy HQ in order to kill the hostages held in that HQ.The first can be a legitimate act of just war. The second is murder.Now consider a variant case where there is no war, but there is a lone military operative deciding on his own authority to engage in the bombing. In that case both actions are wrong. But while now both actions are wrong, the structure of intentions is the same, and I still want to make a distinction between the two actions. In the first case, the operative is murdering enemy soldiers, and committing homicide (an unjustified killing but one that is not murder) of the hostages. In the second case, the operative is murdering the hostages, and committing homicide of the enemy soldiers.If we accepted that the difference of intentions in the case where there was a war meant that the bomber is not murdering the hostages in the first case, I think we should say something like this.We could just use “murder” for <>any<> morally unjustified killing. After all, it’s just a word. But I think that loses some important distinctions.

  • zippy says:

    [Killing the hostages, as long as what you <>want<> out of the act is to get the bad guys and you wish you didn’t have to kill the hostages in order to do so] <>can be a legitimate act of just war.<>I don’t think so, though I see why assuming that it is so leads people into all sorts of untenable entanglements in their moral reasoning.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Alex, while I almost certainly don’t agree with you re. some double effect cases, it also seems to me pretty odd to try to use double effect when we’re talking about fatal neglect. I think one would have to have a _very_ low intellect or perhaps be under the influence of drugs or something to leave a child to die of dehydration in the total way I am talking about while not caring if he lived or died. I can imagine a low-intellect mother who neglects her child in the sense of feeding him sporadically or insufficiently, but I’m talking about giving your child _nothing for two weeks_. It would seem impossible even for someone of somewhat below average IQ to do that out of mere laziness.In any event, laziness, oversight, or what-have-you obviously cannot apply in a case as deliberate as those involving the cessation of artificial nutrition and hydration. There is no question that the people involved in those cases could merely keep on feeding the person and insist that it not be done, ften going to court for the purpose, and that they know perfectly well what they are doing. There’s no question of merely being neglectful or apathetic, as with a mother on crack or something.

  • William Luse says:

    <>The right word is probably some version of “homicide”.<>This neutered legalism simply means “to kill a human.” Sometimes it’s permissible, sometimes not. So was it permissible to kill Terri Schiavo? Justifiable homicide? If not, it was “some version of” murder. If you say it <>was<> justifiable, I’ll faint dead away.And no, this – “Dropping a bomb at the enemy HQ in order to kill enemy soldiers, while knowing that there are hostages in the HQ who will be killed” – cannot be “a legitimate act of just war” simply because (to paraphrase Anscombe) you’ve made a little speech in your heart-of-hearts abhorring the fact that those hostages must die.

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