Imagine Terri Schiavo were a toaster …

How the dismal science applies to your life.
March 28 2005 3:27 PM

Imagine Terri Were a Toaster …

An economist considers the Schiavo case.

(Continued from Page 1)

Now, Michael Schiavo, it seems to me, is in something very like the bluenose position here. If he had a use for his wife's body—if he wanted to cook it up for dinner, let's say—then I'd have more sympathy for him. (On the other hand, I don't think we should make a habit of letting people cook their spouses up for dinner, because it creates very bad incentives with regard to keeping your spouse safe and healthy.) But in fact, he doesn't want to do anything at all with the body, except perhaps to bury it in accord with what he perceives to be the wishes of an essentially dead woman whose wishes have long since ceased to count. All he wants to do is stop someone else from feeding this body, and I see very little difference between that and wanting to stop someone else from reading William Saletan.

Well, one difference is that I enthusiastically understand why people read Saletan, and I have less understanding of why Schiavo's parents want to keep feeding her. And insofar as they want others to keep feeding her—through Medicare, etc.—I think we can safely ignore their preferences. But provided they and their supporters are willing to bear those costs, I infer that this is something they want very much and there's not much reason to stop them.

Advertisement

You could argue in response that Michael Schiavo has signaled an equally strong desire to bury her (by turning down an offer of $1 million and by some reports $10 million), but I see an essential difference between the two desires. One—the desire to feed—is like the desire to read Saletan or, more precisely, the desire to read some other writer in whom I personally see no merit. The other—the desire to prevent others from feeding—is like the desire to censor, and I recoil from censorship even when a strict cost-benefit analysis recommends it.

Steven E. Landsburg is the author, most recently, ofMore Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics. You can e-mail him at armchair@landsburg.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.