Bookworm Room leaps into the socialized medicine fray again, with a post called "When It Comes to End-of-Life Decisions, the State Does Not Love You." She's reacting to a revolting piece at Slate arguing that it makes sense to "sacrifice" the life of an infant to save its mother. Whether or not that trade-off makes sense, The Anchoress points out that it doesn't constitute a "sacrifice." A sacrifice is one person giving up something valuable for another. Despite the euphemism employed by medical researchers who "sacrifice" an experimental laboratory animal, the killing of an infant to save the mother is not a sacrifice. It is a killing that may or may not be justified by harrowing circumstances. If the infant killed itself to save its mother, that would be a sacrifice. If the mother died so that her baby could be born, that would be a sacrifice.
This is part and parcel of the confusion I so often complain about, that leads us to describe as "charity" the act of taking someone else's money and putting it to good use. The confiscation of property may lead to many good things, such as justice, mercy, or efficiency, but it is not charity. Charity is when one man gives of his own property to help someone else in need.
The Bookworm post is well worth reading in its entirety, not just for this point about euphemisms and the mental confusion they generate, but for its treatment of euthanasia, and the broader problem of who will make the best choices about scarce medical resources. She describes a time when she believed a beneficent state would make better choices about expensive end-of-life care than money-grubbing family members. She failed to take into account the inevitable shrinking of prosperity and resources under a socialist system, and the need to compare apples to apples: the question is not whether a flush socialist state will be more merciful than a cash-strapped family, but whether, in cash-strapped situations, the most mercy will be found in people who know and love the patient, or in bureaucrats who are total strangers.
No system of economics or government eliminates the problem of making hard choices about limited resources. Some systems create more prosperity than others, but we will always bump up against the wall of what can be done for one problem without robbing resources available to solve another. The question is: what system solves the conflicts in a way we can live with?