But supposing we still believe, despite the strong weight of evidence, that Mrs. Schiavo remains conscious at some level and might someday lead a normal life. The question then becomes not “What is the right thing to do,” but “Who is to decide?” As in so many human affairs, it is easier to have moral knowledge than knowledge of facts. We do know that, in our tradition, spouses are next of kin and empowered by law to make decisions when their wife or husband is incapable. That is why Mr. Schiavo, when the physicians concluded the case to be hopeless, was free to decide his wife’s fate. To change this legal tradition, in the heat of a passionate case, is a perilous undertaking.
I do not know what Mrs. Schiavo’s husband ought to do, but I do know that the decision belongs to him and not to either Jeb or George Bush. To those who wish to defend physical existence for its own sake at any cost, this will seem like Pilate’s decision. They are wrong. Pilate shirked his responsibility as Roman procurator by giving in to the mob. He should not have allowed the execution of Jesus, but neither should he have overturned both Roman and Jewish laws in order to strip families of their legal rights. The analogy, used with increasing frequency, between Mrs. Schiavo and Christ is blasphemous on many counts. She is not the God who willingly accepted death in order to redeem mankind. She is only a poor, frail mortal, like the rest of us, and her condition and death, so far from being a willing sacrifice, is the result, apparently, of binge dieting.