Justice and Mercy Strain’d

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

– William Shakespeare, The Merchant of
Venice, Act IV

If Terri Schiavo’s imminent death inspires any long term benefit, it will certainly not be the heightened awareness of living wills the MSM is chattering about at the moment.

If her death can make a contribution to posterity, we could hope for a re-examination of ethics and the law.

Many of us have a nagging feeling there is something wrong with this result; this legal and ethical process.

Almost everyone will agree that the political point scoring, by all sides, is grotesque.

We all feel the clammy hand of the state caressing our own secret dignity.


Because the argument that someone with obvious conflicts of interest should hold your life in their hands begs some obvious questions. Because the state’s willingness to be an accomplice in your death based on long delayed hearsay evidence is frightening.

Because the idea that the state gains an interest in your very existence, by paying part of the cost of maintaining that existence, is first astonishing; and second, an argument against the state being allowed to provide the money.

Because the argument that there is “no one home” posits certainty about another human’s mental processes that no one can have.

Because Terri Schiavo has people willing to take care of her who don’t care who the state thinks she “is”.

How can we not wonder if Terri’s death is the act of a society we would call civilized?

How can we not be reminded of our ultimate individual isolation?

In the event, our tragedy is that we cannot be sure. Such reservation calls into question some of the human bonds we hold most dear; that we would like never to have had the occasion to question.

In the face of such existential uncertainty, it is no wonder a virulent schism may develop between those who value human life in and of itself, and those who prefer the state’s judgment of the value of that life.

Religion quite aside, any philosophy that does not hold individual human life as a moral standard leads to the collectivist mentality of termites.

Peace, Terri.

Updated 28-Mar-05, 12:34PM