Should the Government Interfere?

Terry Schiavo suffered brain death in 1990 after her heart stopped. Because of extensive brain damage, Terry will never recover. She is in a persistent vegetative state. She has existed on life support ever since. The feeding tubes were removed on Friday. Her husband supports this. Neurologists said this is a painless death.

Terry's parents are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to reinsert the tubes. These petitions had previously been defeated in court numerous times. This latest appeal was dismissed. Florida Governor Jeb Bush tried to have Terry Schiavo put in state custody so her feeding tube could be reinstered. A judge has blocked the Governor from doing so.
"The president is saddened by the latest ruling," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday morning.

Why is the government always interfering in matters that don't concern them? Granted, the parents of Terry Schiavo have the right to appeal to the courts. Michael Schiavo claims Terry told him she would never wish to be on life support. The death is painless. No abuse is involved. Because this is the case the government has no leg to stand on. Her husband has a right to remove life support. The doctors, the husband, and the family are the only people with the right to decide her fate.
Why is Governor Jeb Bush interfering? He has no right to keep this woman in a vegetative state. The main problem is that the Federal government has become too powerful.


June said...

Congress passed a law specifically to make doctors reinsert the feeding tube, and a state court said it was unconstitutional. It doesn't sound like the Federal Government is too powerful in this case. Also Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida which is a position in the state government, not the federal government.

The government is in place to proctect us as citizens. It seems to me this is its main duty. If government officials deem that this woman needs protection, should they not do anything? I personally think it is way out of hand, but obviously for different reasons than you do.

Dr. Tufte said...

I have two initial thoughts: 1) how is this related to ManEc, and 2) how can we only have 1 comment on this so far when everyone in the country is talking about it?

Well here are a few economics ideas.

1) Living wills are a good created to address this problem. It is common for goods to be brought into existence to address demands that people didn't know they had.
2) A living will is a good that, frankly, benefits others more than it does yourself. Most deaths are a big fat negative externality for the people who have to clean up the details (unless you leave them a huge estate that makes it all worthwhile). This means that most individuals will not think a living will is worth the money, unless they care deeply about those around them. (There's a nasty insight about Terry Schiavo there.)

Here's another nasty insight: if Congress was really interested in helping people, rather than just grandstanding, they'd offer a subsidy for taking out a living will. A basic and solid will/living will combo costs about $500. A subsidy of a $1000 or so would make a whole lot of future Terry-Schiavo-like-cases disappear.

BTW: the media has not been very good at reporting the deep paper trail in this case, in which a sequence of levels within the judicial system has spent a lot of time and effort establishing that the parents don't have much of a case or supporting position. And, without diminishing their religious faith or emotional attachment, the parents and supporters have never brought to the table a plan that didn't involve other parties carrying their costs.